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BMC Racing emerged victors from Saturday’s team time trial as the Vuelta a Espana got underway under heightened security measures following two terrorist attacks in northeastern Spanish region of Catalonia.

AFP/Yuzuru Sunada

For just the third time the Vuelta started outside Spain in the southern French city of Nimes as American team BMC beat out Quick-Step Floors and Team Sunweb by six seconds in a time of 15mins 58secs for the 13.7km route with Australian Rohan Dennis taking the leader’s red jersey.

Pre-race favorite Chris Froome’s Sky team finished fourth a further three seconds back, but that was still enough for Froome to gain some early ground on his rivals in the general classification.

“We executed it perfectly,” said Dennis. “The circuit was very technical, there was a bit of a hill, there was speed and you needed everything so we showed our true power as a team.”

The threat of terror overshadowed the start of cycling’s third Grand Tour of the season after 13 people were killed when a van drove into packed crowds on Barcelona’s famous Las Ramblas on Thursday.

Attackers struck again in the early hours of Friday morning in Cambrils, 120 kilometers south of Barcelona, where a car rammed into pedestrians, killing one person.

After two more stages in France and the tiny Principality of Andorra, the race enters Spain on Tuesday in Tarragona, just 20 kilometers along the Mediterranean coast from Cambrils.

However, the race got off to a gentle start in picturesque surroundings with the short course still enough for Froome to take an early advantage.

The four-time Tour de France winner is aiming to becoming just the third rider after Frenchmen Jacques Anquetil (1963) and Bernard Hinault (1978) to win both the Tour and Vuelta in the same year.

“We all know it’s a fast and technical time trial so only losing nine seconds to BMC and gaining time on others was good,” said Sky’s sport director Nico Portal.

Orica-Scott led by British twins Adam and Simon Yates were nine seconds back on Sky in fifth.

Vincenzo Nibali, 2010 Vuelta champion and arguably Froome’s biggest threat having sat out the Tour de France, lost 22 seconds as his Bahrain-Merida squad finished ninth.

Alberto Contador started his final ever race down in a disappointing 11th for Trek Segafredo to fall 26 seconds back on Froome.

Fabio Aru’s Astana and a AG2R team containing Romain Bardet also finished 32 and 37 seconds behind Sky’s time respectively.

Sunday’s flat second stage takes the riders 203.4km from Nimes to Gruissan.