Post Stage Analysis

Another Prologue, Another Win for Cancellara
Cancellara wins the Vuelta a España prologue, takes the Gold Jersey

Fabian Cancellara of Saxo Bank won the opening stage of the Vuelta a España. Widely touted as the favorite to win the 4.8 kilometer test, the Swiss specialist powered around the motorsports circuit in Assen at an average speed of 54 kilometers per hour. The short flat course also favored the sprinters, and Tom Boonen of Quick-Step finished second, nine seconds behind Cancellara. American sprinter Tyler Farrar of Garmin-Slipstream placed third at 12 seconds down. Cancellara won the first Gold Jersey of this year's Vuelta a España and leads the general classification.

An estimated 40,000 people filled the grandstand at the Assen, which typically hosts Moto GP and auto racing events. Andy Schleck of Saxo Bank called the experience "incredible," and said that "the spectators encouraged me as if I were Dutch." Roman Kreuziger of Liquigas-Doimo set an early best time, which held for much of the day. Partway through the stage, the weather turned wet and heavy rain fell on the course. "When I saw the rain falling midway through the race, I was very afraid to have to ride on such slippery roads," commented Alejandro Valverde of Caisse d'Épargne after the stage. Fortunately for Valverde, the rain did not last and the road dried quickly. David Millar of Garmin-Slipstream had no such luck. Millar, who many had counted among the favorites for the stage win in Assen, rode the course under heavy rainfall, and finished fifteenth at 16 seconds down.

In an odd coincidence, three general classification riders finished on same time in today's prologue. Alejandro Valverde, Ivan Basso, and Alexandre Vinokourov all finished 18 seconds down on Cancellara. Some members of the crowd apparently did not approve of Vinokourov's return to racing, and his presence on the start ramp met with booing from some of the crowd. Cadel Evans of Silence-Lotto finished one second behind the threesome at 19 seconds. The other general classification favorites did not lag too far behind. Jakob Fuglsang of Saxo Bank finished 23 seconds down, Samuel Sanchez of Euskaltel-Euskadi and Robert Gesink of Rabobank finished 24 seconds down, and Andy Schleck of Saxo Bank finished 38 seconds down. The succession of difficult mountain stages later in the race will certainly erase these small time gaps.

After the race, Fabian Cancellara expressed surprise at his performance. On the team website he said, "Honestly I did not expect to take the victory because of the raw competition from other strong riders in peak shape but I succeeded and I am very proud of my effort." Cancellara is riding the Vuelta to hone his form for the World Championship races, where he is keen to win the road race in his home country. "Of course, it's been an objective alone for me and for the team to take the win on the prologue," he explained, but his main goal remains "to get ready for the World Championship on home ground next month." Saxo Bank sports director Kim Andersen said that Saxo Bank did not plan to defend the leader's jersey in the coming stages.

Tomorrow's stage between Assen and Emmen will almost certainly end in a sprint finish. The winner receives a 20 second time bonus, and three sprinters sit within 20 seconds of Cancellara's race lead. If Tom Boonen, Tyler Farrar, or Daniele Bennati wins the stage in Emmen, he will also take over the race lead. All three sprinters and their teams now have extra incentive to ride for the stage victory on tomorrow's flat stage.

Here is the current general classification:
Fabian Cancellara Team Saxo Bank 5.20
Tom Boonen Quick Step 0.09
Tyler Farrar Garmin - Slipstream 0.12
Jens Mouris Vacansoleil Pro Cycling Team 0.14
Daniele Bennati Liquigas-Doimo 0.16
Roman Kreuziger Liquigas-Doimo 0.17
Alexander Vinokourov Astana 0.18
Ivan Basso Liquigas-Doimo mt
Alejandro Valverde Caisse d'Épargne mt
Maciej Bodnar Liquigas-Doimo 0.19

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Course Preview

Prologue: Assen - Assen

Terrain Type: Extra-flat.
GC Importance: Minimal. At only 4.5 kilometers, this prologue should not have much influence on the general classification battle.

The Vuelta prologue follows the traditional format of a very short time trial. The brief 4.5 kilometer stage takes place at the Assen motorsports circuit in the Netherlands. The course is flat and fast, and will suit the specialists. The riders will race one lap around the curvy Assen circuit, where the longest straightaway is 560 meters.

Built in 1955, the Assen track is famous for its motorcycle races, and many fans refer to it as “the Cathedral” of moto racing. Fun fact! Iron Maiden performed at Assen in August 2008 and marked Assen’s début as a concert venue. In its entirety, the venue can host 160,000 spectators and is used throughout the year for both motorcycle and car races.

Profile Details

The profile for this stage is straight-line flat. It’s a bit of a marvel, really, since you just don’t see profiles this flat every day. This course should produce some very fast times, and the separations among the riders will not be especially large. The course is curvy, but the corners are nicely banked and the road surface is fast. No need to worry about potholes here. The Assen course is also reportedly known for its tackiness even in wet weather.

Who To Watch

Crono specialists and sprinters will fill the top slots of the results for this stage. In the recent Eneco Tour, which held a similarly short prologue, Sylvain Chavanel of Quick-Step took the win, followed by Tyler Farrar of Garmin-Slipstream and Tom Boonen of Quick-Step. All three of these riders should place well in Assen.

Other sprinters to watch include Oscar Freire of Rabobank, Daniele Bennati of Liquigas-Doimo, Matti Breschel of Saxo Bank, Gerald Ciolek of Milram, and André Greipel of Columbia-HTC. The short distance and flat terrain give the sprinters a good chance to grab an early leader’s jersey.

That said, the presence of Fabian Cancellara offers a significant obstacle to success for everyone in this prologue. Cancellara eats races like this for breakfast. The flat terrain and swoopy corners suit his powerful style and no doubt he will post a very fast time in Assen. Cancellara is riding the Vuelta with the goal of preparing for the road race at the Mendrisio world championship and will likely stop well short of Madrid. The Swiss crono specialist spent the first week of the Tour de France in the leader’s jersey, why not a repeat at the Vuelta?

Other strong crono riders to watch include Andreas Klöden of Astana, Dominique Rollin of Cervélo TestTeam, David Millar of Garmin-Slipstream, Svein Tuft of Garmin-Slipstream, Manuel Quinziato of Liquigas-Doimo, Lars Boom of Rabobank, Koos Moerenhout of Rabobank, and Frantisek Rabon of Columbia-HTC.

Gavia (updates to this preview will be made during the race and especially the day before the stage with current analysis)<-->