Astana wins stage 1 of the 2013 Vuelta a Espana

Vincenzo Nibali lands an early blow in Spanish tour

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MADRID (VN) — Vincenzo Nibali’s Astana team won the stage 1 team time trial ahead of RadioShack-Leopard and Omega Pharma-Quick-Step as the Vuelta a España got under way on Saturday.

Nibali, who is looking to add a second Vuelta victory to his Giro d’Italia win earlier this year, was given the perfect start as the Kazakh team came home 10 seconds ahead of RadioShack, with pre-stage favorite Omega Pharma a further six seconds behind.

“It was a great time trial,” said Nibali. “The team was fantastic. My condition is good. The Vuelta is hard and long, and there are some difficult stages. We’ll see how it goes. I will take it day by day.”

Janez Brajkovic crossed the line first for Astana, taking the race’s first red leader’s jersey.

“Jani has had a lot of bad luck in the recent past, so it was fair to let him take the red jersey,” said Nibali.

Former winner Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) is expected to be one of Nibali’s main competitors for the overall race victory. The Spanish team failed to repeat its victory in this stage, and Valverde lost 29 seconds to the Italian, but he wasn’t disheartened.

“We have set a good time and we are happy,” Valverde said. “We haven’t lost much time with respect to the favorites and what we lost was due to a puncture for [Benat] Intxausti. It was a blow because he was an important man for us in the time trial, but we have coped with it well.”

RadioShack’s Chris Horner, meanwhile, came away happy with his team’s performance and hoping for good things from Sunday’s stage 2.

“We gave everything today,” he said. “Fabian was just tremendous. He was taking huge pulls. I was cross-eyed a few times trying to close down the gaps. We’ll see what happens tomorrow on that climb. The legs are good.”

Sunday’s stage 2, a 176km leg from Pontevedra to Baiona, rolls out the first hilltop finale of the 2013 Vuelta. Breakaways are likely be reeled in as the GC favorites look to test their rivals for the first time. The final, 11km climb scales nearly 2,000 vertical feet, so anyone not hot out of the gate could see their GC chances evaporate very quickly. A reduced bunch sprint among a select group of top riders could be in the cards.

Race note

Garmin-Sharp had an inauspicious beginning to the Vuelta, finishing 19th at 1:41. “We had two guys crash [Michel Kreder and Koldo Fernandez], so we lost a little bit of rhythm there,” said Tyler Farrar. Despite the setback, the American sprinter said he was “feeling good” coming into the Vuelta, adding, “The goal is to win a stage.”

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