Saturday, August 26, 2006

Vuelta Stage 1: CSC Torches Malaga

Starting his third Grand Tour of the year, Carlos Sastre takes the Gold Jersey to get the Vuelta underway. Although Sastre powered the CSC boys over the line, the real victory here belongs to the team as a whole (duh, ed.). CSC collectively demolished the 7.3k TTT opening stage in Malaga, hammering out an average pace of over 57k/h (that's about 35 mph) (image credit: Graham Watson). Try to hold on to that for even a single kilometer. You might come close . . . going downhill. And, if anyone on CSC deserves to be singled out for credit, it's Fabian Cancellara, who took a truly punitive turn on the front before dumping the team into the finishing bends. Although it looked like Cancellara had torn himself apart, he somehow managed to get himself back on last wheel as the team took the line. Brilliant stuff.

So, just how good was CSC today? Well, almost as much time separated CSC and second place Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears (7 seconds) -- which, incidentally, looked very strong for Valverde -- as separated Caisse d'Epargne from Quick Step in tenth place (eight seconds). And all 21 teams were covered by only 37 seconds. CSC was damn good.

As for Sastre, I doubt he can win the Vuelta. He gave too much in the Tour de France to have enough form to make through the next three weeks on top. He will, though, be a factor in determining who does win and, to that end, I suspect he'll cash out one or two pretenders in the first mountain stages later this week. One thing is for sure: his team is on tip-top form.

Also of Note: Gerolsteiner leader David Rebellin crashed hard in an early round-about after a touch of wheels. Gerolsteiner did not wait. The only help Rebellin would get came from Marcel Strauss, who either went back quite near the finish or simply blew up and got caught. Both Rebellin and Strauss finished 2'50'' back, putting Rebellin in a nice hole from the jump. Why didn't Gerolsteiner pull up for its purported leader? Two words (or one name, take your pick): Markus Fothan. After losing the Tour de France Young Rider category to Damiano Cunego by the skin of his teeth, look for Fothan to have a strong Vuelta. I doubt, though, Rebellin is ready to go gently into that good night. I'd have liked to have heard the conversation at the Gerolsteiner dinner table tonight. The only other rider of note to lose his team was Angel Gomez, who took the line 28' after the rest of the Saunier Duval crew. Even so, Gomez lies only 41" down.

You can follow the Vuelta a few different ways. First, check out for complete coverage (access fee of 18 Euros). Second, follow real time satellite data with Google Earth. Finally, has excellent live text updates.


Tomorrow: Málaga - Córdoba, 176 Kms. The route features a couple of Cat. 3 climbs and the race will, in all likelihood, feature a bunch sprint for the finish. I'm pulling for Herr Zabel, whose Milram team looked like it's ready to give us the lead outs they couldn't in France. I just hope Petacchi isn't quite ready to push. It would be very nice to see the old man with his arms in the air just once more. Also watch out for Thor Hushovd, Danilo Di Luca, Paolo Bettini and, of course, the Pimpernel, Robbie McEwen.