Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Transitions) won a very messy second stage of the Giro d’Italia on Sunday, outsprinting the remnants of a peloton shattered by a series of crashes in the 210km race from Amsterdam to Utrecht in the Netherlands.
The stage was tailor-made for a bunch sprint, following a relatively flat and twisting route through the small towns and farmland to the southeast of Amsterdam. It featured only two relatively small climbs, the Category 3 Kaapse Bossen at 88.7km and the Cat. 3 Amerongse Bos at 100.5km.
But the final run into Utrecht was a dicey one. The course was squeezed down into one lane of traffic for the final 4-5km, with five turns in the last 4km and a sharp right-hander with 225 meters to go.
Oddly, it was about the only stretch in which someone wasn’t hitting the deck. Farrar, who lay sprawled on a traffic island earlier in the race, kept the rubber side down in the finale to win ahead of Matthew Goss (HTC-Columbia) and Fabio Sabatini (Liquigas).
“It’s fantastic to win at the Giro,” Farrar said. “It’s one of the special ones. Last year was a breakout year for me. It feels good to prove with the wins I’ve had so far that I am at this level again this year. To win the first sprint is nice — it takes some pressure off for the rest of the race.”
Also getting some pressure relief was Bradley Wiggins (Team Sky), who like Farrar was among the many riders to spend some time off the bike and on the tarmac on Sunday. Wiggo’ crossed the finish line 30 seconds back in a chase group and saw his maglia rosa taken away by world road champion Cadel Evans (BMC).
Conditions were typical for Holland in spring, with temperatures of 10°C (50°F) and a high of 12°C (54°F) forecast. Winds were out of the north at 18km and humidity around 60 percent. Arm warmers, wind vests and shoe covers were very much in evidence.
The obligatory early break formed up quickly, this one contained:
- Rick Flens (Rabobank). 22nd at :17
- Mauro Facci (Quick Step, 75th at :35
- Stefano Pirazzi (Colnago-CSF Inox), 120th at :47
- Paul Voss (Milram), 140th at :52
With 102km to race the break had some six minutes on the peloton, led by Team Sky on behalf of race leader Wiggins, who, before the race, didn’t sound optimistic about keeping the maglia rosa for long.
“We’ll do our best to defend the jersey as long as we can. But there are a lot of sprinters who are close and they will have an advantage with the time bonuses,” he said. “It was a great start to the Giro. It’s our first grand tour and we had big success. We had a nice celebration last night.”
With 92km to go the gap was down to four minutes. Back in the bunch Anders Lund (Saxo Bank) crashed but remounted and continued.
Sixty-five kilometers from the line HTC-Columbia had joined Sky at the front of the bunch but the gap was not contracting, but expanding, to six minutes.
Crashes and more crashes
At 58km to go a narrow bridge on an already-narrow road squeezed the bunch into a big low-speed pileup, but it seemed that no one was seriously hurt and the pursuit resumed.
Up front, the break was down to three men — Pirazzi, Flens and Vos. Facci was in no-man’s land, two minutes behind the hares and some 90 seconds ahead of the hounds.
Another crash took down Farrar, who found himself laid out on a raised traffic island. He remounted and what appeared to be the entire Garmin-Transitions team dropped back to give him a tow while the team car appeared to provide mechanical assistance.
Guillame Blot (Cofidis) went down, too, and appeared to be less eager to get back in the race. Another victim was Juan Horrach Rippoll (Katusha), one of Robbie McEwen’s helpers, who also got up and soldiered on.
With slightly more than 40km to go a huge crash left a massive tangle of bikes and bodies on the deck, among them several BMC riders — one of them race leader Wiggins, who got back up and at ’em with three teammates for backup. The peloton slowed its pace to give the maglia rosa a chance to catch back on.
Even so, the gap was coming down quickly. The break had slightly more than a minute’s advantage with 35km to race and it was not a happy trio, especially Flens, who was gesturing angrily at his break-mates, apparently urging them to greater efforts.
Behind, Sky had regained the front, with Wiggins securely back in the fold, and they had some Astana riders for company. Farrar had made it back, too.
Voss was first to attack the break, leaping away with 32km to go. Flens countered and wound up on his own, just seconds ahead of the chase, which had him in its sights with 25km to race.
As the peloton closed in on the Rabobank rider, his teammate Dmitry Kozontchuk inexplicably fell over in mid-bunch, but quickly got back up and chased back on.
Two kilometers later it was all over, gruppo compatto.
The final kilometers
Sky remained in charge at the front with 17km to go. Two kilometers later Liquigas moved forward en masse and the pace ramped up.
The course tightened dramatically as the peloton navigated a tight left-hand corner lined three deep with spectators and the riders at the rear of the bunch came nearly to a complete stop — happily, with no one falling over.
The pace set by Liquigas was popping riders off the back with 10km to go, among them Damiano Cunego (Lampre-Farnese Vini).
And then, slam! Another huge crash as the sprinters’ teams jockeyed for position. Among the victims this time was Filippo Pozzato (Katusha) and Jackson Rodriguez (Androni Giocattoli). Further along, yet another pileup left Alessandro Spezialetti (Lampre) and a couple other riders laid out in the grass at roadside.
With 3km to go it was HTC-Columbia and Liquigas battling at the front of what remained of a very battered and bruised field. Wiggins was not in the lead group.
In the final kilometer Garmin tried to get its train rolling for Farrar, but it looked as though André Greipel (HTC-Columbia) might steal a march on him in the final corner. But The Argyle Army quickly got back on track and delivered the American to the stage win.
“The team was fantastic,” Farrar said. “I couldn’t have asked for a better delivery to the line. We’ve said since the beginning of the season that we’re putting more into beefing out our leadout train — Sutton tried to help us in the last corner, Jules did a great job to close down the gap and give me a clean run to the line.” (Related: Farrar’s victory a boost for Garmin-Transitions)
Goss sped to second with Sabatini third — and Evans found himself with a pretty pink jersey to go along with his rainbow stripes.
Whether he keeps it, or hands it off to Farrar — who trails him by just a single second — is another matter altogether.
“The goal is the same as the last time I had the pink jersey, in 2002, which was to have it when the Giro end,” said Evans. “In 2002, it came as a bit of a rush for me, but now I have more experience.
“So the objective is still the same — we’d love to have the pink jersey in Verona. I am not going to go look for time bonuses on the road tomorrow against Farrar.” (Related: Evans: ‘We’d love to have the maglia rosa in Verona’)
Monday’s stage 3 is probably the flattest stage in Giro history, with parts of the course at or below sea level. The expected winds and constant changes of direction could spell danger for the lightly built climbers, even before reaching the day’s final 37km loop at Middelburg. (Related: 2010 Giro d’Italia route) — VeloNews European correspondent Andrew Hood contributed to this report.