Saturday 20 January 2018

Nicolas Roche: Day at beach begins our Vuelta challenge

Nicolas Roche: Vuelta a España Diary

People ride their bikes along a dirt track in Marbella’s Puerto Banus marina, which forms part of today’s Vuelta Stage 1 team time trial route
People ride their bikes along a dirt track in Marbella’s Puerto Banus marina, which forms part of today’s Vuelta Stage 1 team time trial route

Friday, August 21: Malaga

Having stuffed my suitcase with another three weeks' worth of cycling kit, I flew into Malaga on Wednesday to meet up with my Sky team-mates for my second Grand Tour of the season, the Vuelta a Espana.

It was nice to have my fiancée Deborah alongside me on the flight and as she will be working on the race for the duration, hopefully I will get to say hello to her most mornings in the start village, where she will be working for Vodafone.

After settling into the team hotel, which is about an hour from the start in Puerto Banus, we hopped onto the team bus yesterday morning to go ride the route of the opening team time trial.

When we got there we were a bit surprised to see that there wasn't one bit of tarmac on the 7.4km route and that the stage actually takes place almost entirely on the beach itself.

Starting off on a concrete pier along the harbour, we rode through a restaurant area before crossing the road onto a very nice but narrow palm tree-lined promenade where we were greeted by a surface comprised of interlocking tiles, much like the ones used to cover football pitches or grassy areas ahead of a concert.

At the end of this long section, there was a sharp drop onto a sand-covered dirt track leading to a wooden bridge where Chris Froome and I were brought to an abrupt halt.

"It is too dangerous," said the burly Spanish security man blocking our path.

"But we have to race across it on Saturday?" I said.

Apparently nobody is sure whether the bridge in question can take the weight of the team cars and the reason it was closed was that they've been testing it with weights for the past few days.

A shrug of the shoulders and a wave around the obstacle saw Froomey and I rejoin the route where we faced more sand and loose gravel with about 3km to go before entering a final kilometre comprised of a section of shiny tiles, something like those used on a shopping centre floor, a cobble-lock pedestrian area and finally a stretch or interlocking rubber mats used to cover the beach itself.

Obviously we weren't the only ones with safety concerns upon seeing the route and a meeting was called between teams and organisers later that night, where it was decided that the stage would still go ahead but that times would only count towards the team classification and not the individual standings.

The team time trial of any race is an important stage for a lot of teams but the decision means that tomorrow's opener has effectively been nullified and that teams looking towards a high overall placing for their leaders will put safety first and not ride flat out.

Of course everyone dreams of winning a stage in the Vuelta so some squads are still going to ride hard and take their chances but I think any team with hopes of overall victory or with their sights set on a high overall placing will ride conservatively with staying upright taking priority over taking the first red jersey of race leader.


There is no doubt the stage will be spectacular and the helicopter shots should be fantastic but I think the solution would have been to have the team presentation on the beach, maybe have the teams ride along some of it as a way to get to the podium, but the team time trial itself should have been held on a different course, even if it was up and down the road beside it.

For us at Sky, we go into the race with Froomey as leader and hoping to become the first rider since 1978 and only the third in history do the Tour de France/Vuelta double.

It's going to be a tough three weeks, but at least we get one day at the beach.

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