Vuelta a España 2022, stage one
Distance: 23.3km (TTT)
Start location: Utrecht (Netherlands)
Finish location: Utrecht (Netherlands)
Start time: 17.30 BST
Finish time (approx): 19.22 BST
The opening stage of the 77th edition of the Vuelta a España is the first to take place outside of mainland Spain since 2017, when the race began in Nîmes, France.
All three Grand Tours have started outside their home countries this year, and the nation in the spotlight this time is the Netherlands, where the first three stages take place before an early rest/transfer day takes the caravan back to mainland Spain.
There’s no doubt that the Dutch will be ready to welcome the race to the streets of Utrecht, a beautiful university town in the centre of the Holland region of the Netherlands. Its picturesque canals and medieval old town rub shoulders with contemporary architecture, and as a city with sustainability high on its agenda, within a country where cycling is the norm rather than the exception, it’s the perfect location to begin a Grand Tour.
In recent years La Vuelta has been closely associated with opening day team time trials and this year sees the return of the format for the first time since 2019. Then, the day ended in disaster for several teams, as wet roads led to a number of crashes. This edition is longer than previous TTTs at 23.3km, but on paper it looks as though it shouldn’t prove too tricky, with a pan flat profile and a route through a city that boasts wide, well-paved roads.
Team time trials can be unpredictable though, and for teams who lack excellence against the clock throughout their ranks, the challenge may not be the parcours, but rather staying together and ensuring that four riders cross the line within a reasonable distance of one another.
The start line is situated on the car-fee Jaarbeursboulevard not far from Utrecht Central Station. Situated in a sustainable neighbourhood, the green architecture and wide streets around the Jaarbeurs convention centre will provide an arresting backdrop as the teams roll out on their tour of the city. They head south and east past the old town and through the Wittevrouwen district before turning west and heading towards the north of the city along main roads.
Arguably the trickiest part of the day is the 360 turn at the top of Einsteinsdreef as the teams pivot and head south back towards the city centre, via residential neighbourhoods. They traverse the busiest navigable canal in the world, the Amsterdam-Rijnkanaal, along which 100,000 ships pass annually.
The race completes its circuit heading through the green parkland west of the city and back across the canal, before reaching the finish line in the city centre.
The team who posts the fastest time will take control of the race, and the first man to wear the red jersey will be the member of that team who crosses the line first. Sometimes this may be pre-agreed within a team, and at other times it will simply be a free-for-all among the fastest finishers.
In 2019, a freak incident occurred when a child’s paddling pool burst and soaked the road. It saw top teams such as Jumbo-Visma and UAE Team Emirates wiped out and unable to contest the win. The winning team that day was Astana, with Miguel Ángel López the first man to take red.
This year, Jumbo-Visma will be favourites to take the lead on home roads. With a number of time trial specialists among their ranks including reigning Olympic champion Primož Roglič and bronze medallist Rohan Dennis, they will look to banish the ghosts of 2019 and start the Vuelta as they mean to go on – in the red.
Vuelta a España 2022 stage one map and profile
At 23.3km and with no hills, the challenge on the opening team time trial will really come in each team's organisation as well as the tight turns along the route. There could be significant time gaps here if some teams get their TTT tactics wrong.
Vuelta a España 2022 stage one predictions and contenders
It's never easy to predict a team time trial, particularly considering the dearth of them in recent seasons.
On paper, Jumbo-Visma look to have the strongest team by far. With Olympic time trial champion Primož Roglič, two-time world champion Rohan Dennis, and time trial powerhouse Edoardo Affini in the squad, the Dutch team should have enough to win on home soil and take the race's first red jersey.
Quick-Step Alpha-Vinyl have a team strong enough to help Remco Evenepoel to stay close to Jumbo-Visma, but perhaps not enough to overhaul them for the title. Julian Alaphilippe, Rémi Cavagna, and Ilan Van Wilder are all accomplished time triallists who should put in a good performance here.
Ineos Grenadiers are usually very well organised in TTTs, but their Vuelta team is perhaps not as blessed with as many seasoned riders against the clock as some of their previous Grand Tour teams. Still, the likes of British champion Ethan Hayter, former Australian champion Luke Plapp, and Dutchman Dylan van Baarle can all help lead what is usually a cohesive unit.
Prediction: Jumbo-Visma to take the stage win and the red jersey (but not for Primož Roglič)