Start location: Barcelona
Finish location: Barcelona
Start time: 19:05 CEST
Finish time (approx): 20:45 CEST
For better or worse, Barcelona has become one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. Every year visitors flock to the Catalan capital in their millions, wanting to sample the many attractions it is now famous for — whether that be its thriving nightlife, its unique architecture and the famous buildings of Antoni Gaudi, or the long stretches of beaches that become such an attraction during the warm summer months. So popular has the town become that recent years have seen an impassioned backlash against tourism, with local protesters demanding that politicians do something to resist the influx of visitors, complaining that residents are overlooked as rent prices rocket and the town is overwhelmed and loses its identity.
Far less eager to visit Barcelona have been the Vuelta a España organisers. Surprisingly, given that it’s the nation’s second biggest city after Madrid, Saturday’s stage will be the first time the Vuelta has visited since 2012, while you have to go back over 60 years to 1962 for the last time Barcelona hosted the race’s Gran Salida. This was a very different place then, a town still suffering the consequence of its support for the Republican cause during the Spanish Civil War, with Catalan identity being suppressed under the Franco dictatorship — and certainly far from the tourist hotspot it has since become.
Stage one profile sourced via the Vuelta website
The rarity of visits does make the occasion of Barcelona hosting the Vuelta feel special, and indeed the route for the team time trial capitalises on the opportunity by taking in many of the town’s most famous landmarks. Each team will set out from the seafront and travel north-eastwards through the Saint-Mari district, passing landmarks like the Parc de la Ciutadella and the Arc de Triomf, before heading in the opposite direction to take in Gaudi’s famous unfinished Sagrada Familia cathedral, and finishing at the spectacular Magic Fountain at Montjuïc.
It’s an urban circuit, and one that comes with the usual difficulties of racing around city streets — above all, technical roads and tight corners. The first half will be especially testing, with 11 separate 90 degree turns to be navigated inside the first 7km, although matters simplify during the final south-westerly run-in, which features only five in the last 7.5km. And crucially, as well as being pan flat, it’s not an especially long team time trial. Whereas last year’s equivalent opening stage in Utrecht was 23.2km and led to only two teams finishing within half a minute of Jumbo-Visma’s winning time, and nine teams conceding over a minute, at less than two-thirds the length this one’s impact on the GC shouldn’t — save for any crashes — have as much of an impact.
Last year's Vuelta a España commenced with a team time trial, though it was slightly longer. Jumbo-Visma secured the stage victory, and they are anticipated to be formidable contenders in this year's TTT as well. The Dutch squad has assembled a powerhouse team for this Vuelta, featuring co-leaders Primož Roglič and Jonas Vingegaard. Both are known for their time trial prowess, and so are their teammates, Jan Tratnik, Dylan van Baarle, and Wilco Kelderman.
The team that secured the second position last year, Ineos Grenadiers, is determined to better their result and clinch the top spot in this year's opening stage. Led by Geraint Thomas, they possess one of the world's best time trialists, Filippo Ganna. Their line-up also includes TT specialist Jonathan Castroviejo and the multitalented Thymen Arensman.
However, there is one rider who keeps taking the top spot from Ganna in many of the time trials this year, and that is world champion Remco Evenepoel. He will lead the Soudal–Quick-Step team for the TTT, which includes Mattia Cattaneo and Casper Pedersen, both of whom also boast strong time trial capabilities.
EF Education-EasyPost, who narrowly missed out on victory in the team time trial during this year's Paris-Nice, could potentially challenge for the top spot. Swiss rider Stefan Bissegger is the strongest TT performer within their team, however, the American team's line-up understandably focuses more on the wealth of upcoming mountain stages.
UAE Team Emirates is also in the running with João Almeida and Jay Vine. Similarly, Jayco Alula, with riders such as Michael Hepburn and Matteo Sobrero, is a team to watch out for in the TTT.
With the squad they are boasting, we think Jumbo-Visma will take the team time trial title once again in the opening stage.