Australian rider Dennis wins time trial to start Vuelta

MALAGA, Spain (AP) — Australian rider Rohan Dennis won the time trial on Stage One of the Spanish Vuelta on Saturday, while Michal Kwiatkowski of Sky grabbed an early advantage over other team leaders.

Dennis powered his way through the short 8-kilometer (4.9-mile) course in the coastal city of Malaga in 9 minutes, 39 seconds.

“Part of my goal coming into the Vuelta was to get a stage win and it’s nice to do that on the first day again and also get the jersey,” he said.

Dennis, who is Australia’s three-time defending time trial champion, led the Giro d’Italia for four days in May.

Kwiatkowski, leading Sky in the absence of 2017 Vuelta winner Chris Froome, produced the second fastest time, six seconds behind Dennis.

“Kwiatkowski definitely piled on a lot of pressure and honestly I was hoping the time would be a little slower,” Dennis said. “I just put everything out there and hoped for the win.”

The 28-year-old Dennis also wore the red leader’s jersey after Stage One of last year’s Vuelta, when his BMC team won the opening team time trial.

The 2009 winner Alejandro Valverde finished in 16th place, 24 seconds back. Among the other expected title contenders, Nairo Quintana and Ilnur Zakarin were :30 behind; UAE Emirates teammates Dan Martin and Fabio Aru were 38 and 39 seconds slower, followed by Vincenzo Nibali at :40, Rigoberto Uran at :45, and Richie Porte at :51.

Froome opted against defending his crown after winning the Giro and finishing the Tour de France third behind teammate and champion Geraint Thomas last month. Instead, Froome and Thomas will participate in the eight-day Tour of Britain starting on Sept. 2.

Sunday’s Stage 2 is a hilly 163.5K ride inland from the seaside town of Marbella to a finish atop the Caminito del Rey climb.

The three-week race finishes in Madrid on Sept. 16.