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Salt and pedal: 'Superman' leads Astana to opening Vuelta stage win

By AFP
media Astana Pro Team compete during the first stage of La Vuelta AFP

Astana struck the first blow on La Vuelta a Espana on Saturday, sprinting to victory in an opening team time trial played out over a spectacular background of salt lakes.

The Kazakh outfit clocked 14min 15.08secs for the 13.4km course which took in the famed salt flats of Torrevieja on Spain's south-east coast.

Deceuninck-Quick-Step were two seconds off the pace with Team Sunweb in third spot, five seconds behind.

Victory on Saturday put Colombia's Miguel Angel Lopez into the leader's red jersey.

"I'm delighted, we did everything right," said Lopez, the rider nicknamed 'Superman' who said there had been no pre-planning over which member of the team would have the honour of crossing the line first.

"No decision was made on this -- it was done at that moment."

Lopez, who was third on the Giro d'Italia in the spring and is bidding to follow Tour de France champion Egan Bernal as a Grand Tour winner, also has the advantage of being one La Vuelta's top climbers which could prove key.

"We have the red jersey and we are going to take things calmly. I have a great team at my side to support me."

It was a forgettable opening day, however, for time-trial favourites Jumbo-Visma who suffered a collective fall on a wet part of the route on what was a hot, windless day.

Amongst the victims was one of the race favourites Primoz Roglic, the Slovenian ex-ski jumper who came into the race having won the Tour de Romandie and Tirreno-Adriatico titles this year.

"We were riding at full speed towards a bend when things went sideways. There was no way to avoid it," explained rider Tony Martin.

"We couldn't react in time, and the guys in the front slipped away on the wet road surface. Luckily everyone was able to continue their ride. Now we will have to see how things go, day by day. For now this is a blow to our morale."

The group recovered to finish 40 seconds off the lead in what was a disappointing start for a team which had captured the corresponding time trials at the Giro and Tour de France.

Sunday's second stage is a hilly 199.6km ride from Benidorm to Calpe.

The 74th edition of La Vuelta finishes in Madrid on September 15.

 
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