Leopard pounce at Vuelta

Liquigas edged out in opener

Last Updated: 23/08/11 12:11pm

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Leopard: Driven along by Fabian Cancellara to take the fastest time in Benidorm

Leopard: Driven along by Fabian Cancellara to take the fastest time in Benidorm

Sky Bet

Leopard Trek took victory in the opening team time trial at the Vuelta a Espana to place Jakob Fuglsang into the race lead.

The Luxembourg squad finished with just five riders but clocked a time of 16 minutes and 30 seconds to ensure the Dane became the first recipient of the red leader’s jersey.

Liquigas were the second team home with defending champion Vincenzo Nibali’s squad only just coming up short four seconds back.

HTC-Highroad also put in a strong time to take third on the day, five seconds back, despite finishing without Mark Cavendish and Tony Martin in their final six riders.

The 13.5-kilometre opening stage was notable for a number of top teams failing to fire on all cylinders, with Garmin-Cervelo (+25 seconds), BMC Racing (+27), Rabobank (+30) and Team Sky (+42) all losing time on their rivals.

Fuglsang now leads his first Grand Tour on the same time as his four team-mates, with Fabian Cancellara, Maxime Monfort, Thomas Rohregger and Daniele Bennati rounding out the top 5.

Demanding opener

A tough 3km uphill drag out of the start made life difficult for teams with a number of riders finding themselves quickly tailed off as the three-week stage race got under way.

One team who went away from the beachfront disappointed were pre-stage favourites Garmin-Cervelo, the American squad only able to notch a time seven seconds back on first team home Skil-Shimano.

RadioShack also endured a tough start as team-leader Janez Brajkovic suffered mechanical problems off the start ramp, forcing the remaining eight riders to slow their pace to wait for the Slovenian.

The stage was notable for a number of mechanical issues seemingly caused by a steep and narrow start ramp on the beachfront.

Xabier Zandio put in a brave dig to place himself as the fifth man for Team Sky as they crossed the line with a time good enough for just 20th place.

Liquigas were the final team off the ramp and fastest out of the starting blocks, quickest by one second at the 7km intermediate split.

Yet despite the efforts of the Italian squad the day belonged to Leopard Trek and a surprised new race leader Fuglsang, who admitted: “It is a really special day that is for sure – the first time in a leader’s jersey in a Grand Tour.

“We didn’t talk about [who would cross the line first]. Our goal today was to do a good team TT and we knew that we could win this if we could do up to our maximum.

“I got to the front with 200 metres to go and I just went as hard as I could. I was actually expecting someone to pass me but nobody passed.

“I will go for the overall and see how far I can go. I don’t think I can get much higher than I am now but I have a goal in the GC. We have Daniele [Bennati] for the sprints and Fabian [Cancellara] for the time trial.”

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