Vuelta 1: Mark Cavendish leads HTC-Columbia home

Late night team time trial kicks off Tour of Spain

British sprint sensation Mark Cavendish took the leader's jersey on the first day of the Tour of Spain after powering his HTC Columbia team to victory in the team time trial here Saturday.

The American team stormed over the 13-kilometre course in the floodlight streets of Seville in 14 minutes and 06 seconds, in a race that broke new ground by beginning at 10pm (2000 GMT).

It was 10 seconds ahead of the Liquigas team that includes Italy's Vincenzo Nibali, one of the favourites for this year's title.

Danish outfit Saxo Bank, which stars Luxembourg's Andy and Frank Schleck and Switzerland's Fabian Cancellara, was third, 12 seconds behind the winners.

Fourth was Italy's Lampre and fifth the US team Garmin.

Cavendish, making his Tour of Spain debut, takes the leader's jersey, which this year is red rather than the traditional gold. Joining him on the podium were the Slovak twins Peter and Martin Velits.

The 25-year-old Isle of Man rider already has a remarkable string of stage wins in major Tours that includes 15 victories in the Tour of France over the past three years.

He will have another chance to show off his skills in Sunday's second stage, which covers a relatively flat 173.7-kilometre course from Alcala de Guadaira to Marbella and which should favour a group finish.

But the course overall, which includes six summit finishes in eight mountain stages, is expected to favour the climbers.

Many believe the event could be won or lost on the penultimate stage, a 168.8-kilometre course that ends atop the 2,250-metre Bola del Mundo in the Guadarrama mountain rang northwest of Madrid.

The event has been left wide open by the absence of three-time Tour de France winner Spaniard Alberto Contador who skipped his home Tour, which he won in 2008, after a hard-fought victory in France in July, and last year's winner Alejandro Valverde, who is serving a suspension for doping.

Top contenders now include 35-year-old Russian Denis Menchov, a two-time Tour of Spain winner, the Schleck brothers and the 2008 Tour de France winner Carlos Sastre of Spain.

The 21-stage 65th edition of the Tour of Spain, in which 198 riders from 22 teams are competing, ends in Madrid on September 19.

© AFP 2010

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