VERONA, Italy (VN) — Ivan Basso, Ryder Hesjedal and Fränk Schleck were able relax, open a four-ounce bag of peanuts and enjoy the flight Monday night from Billund to Verona. They and the other Giro d’Italia overall favorites went unscathed by what many expected to be touchy racing during the tour’s opening Danish legs.
Taylor Phinney (BMC Racing) found it hard to get comfortable with his wrapped right ankle after his crash with Roberto Ferrari (Androni Giocattoli-Venezuela) and Mark Cavendish (Sky) at the end of stage 3, ahead of the flight to Verona. The sprinters bickered about the incident, but the overall favorites were quiet and reflective.
Unlike some other grand tour starts in the north, Denmark was unable to shake the contenders for the overall title. Out of all the top favorites, Garmin-Baracudas’s Canadian, Ryder Hesjedal still leads in the general classification, sitting 20th overall.
Hesjedal created his gains five days ago, thanks to Saturday’s 8.7-kilometer opening time trial. Phinney ruled the stage with a time of 10:26, but Hesjedal ruled the rest. He clocked 10:55, seven seconds faster than Roman Kreuziger (Astana) and a whopping 1:06 faster than defending Giro champion Michele Scarponi (Lampre-ISD).
The overall contenders, based on Hesjedal’s GC time:
Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Barracuda)
Roman Kreuziger (Astana) at :07
Ivan Basso (Liquigas-Cannondale) at :10
Joaquím Rodríguez (Katusha) at :14
Fränk Schleck (RadioShack-Nissan) at :30
Michele Scarponi (Lampre-ISD) at 1:06
With temperatures at 50°F or less and strong winds off the North Sea, it was a bit surprising the remaining 398 kilometers didn’t crack one of the feather-weight contenders.
When the Giro d’Italia started in Amsterdam in 2010, it was a similar story in stage 1. A strong TT man, Brad Wiggins (Sky) in that case, won and took the pink jersey on day one. The second and third days were different. Wiggins was involved in two crashes, lost 37 seconds and his overall lead in Utrecht. Cadel Evans (BMC Racing) gained the jersey, but commented, “It was one of the most ridicules and nervous stages.”
Bad luck struck the Evans the next day. He was isolated and forced to chase after being stuck behind when the Sky train derailed in a corner. Evans lost 46 seconds to a group with Alexander Vinokourov (Astana), who took the lead to Italy. Wiggins lost a further 3:31 by the finish in Middelburg. His loss was small compared to Christian Vande Velde (Garmin), who abandoned with his collarbone in pieces.
The time gaps – 40 seconds to three minutes – were huge in comparison to this year’s seven seconds to one minute difference in Denmark.
Other Grand Départs
All three grand tours started in Holland in the space of one year. The Vuelta a España started from Assen in 2009 and traveled toward Liège, Belgium. Chris Horner (Astana) was the major victim there, abandoning with a fractured hand.
The following year, the Tour started in Rotterdam. Basso hit a dog during the second stage to Brussels, where the closing two kilometers saw two pile-ups. The favorites came away OK, unlike the next day to Spa. Fabian Cancellara (Saxo Bank) enforced a go-slow after the massive crash on the Stockeau involving teammate Andy Schleck and Vande Velde. The latter lost six minutes and abandoned that night with fractured ribs.
A shift south
The Giro’s riders breathed a sigh of relief when the airplane touched ground in Verona Monday night. The team time trial today will help further sort out the classification and lessen the stress. Plus, there’s no more wind blowing off the North Sea.
“It’s the same in the tour, no one likes starting abroad because it’s added stress,” Kreuziger’s Astana team manager, Giuseppe Martinelli, told VeloNews. “We’re in good position with Roman, but none of it will matter in the third week, when we’ll see huge gaps.”