FANO, Italy (VN) — Ramunas Navardauskas was out for an easy spin in Valencia, Spain, five days before the Giro d’Italia. He had no plan to race and, for sure, he had no plan to wear the pink jersey. He’d just returned form the Tour de Romandie and looked forward to spending time in Little Lithuania with Thomas Vaitkus and Ignatas Konovalovas.
“He got home at 2:00 p.m. Monday afternoon, went for a ride at 4:00, but I called at 5:00 and said, ‘You have to come to the Giro tomorrow. You have a 7:00 flight in the morning,’” Garmin-Barracuda sports director, Allan Peiper told VeloNews. “I said, ‘Come for seven or 10 days and see how it goes.’”
The 24-year-old took the maglia rosa yesterday thanks to a strong ride in the opening time trial, sixth at 22 seconds back, and a winning team time trial performance with Garmin yesterday. The plan was to put Alex Rasmussen in the lead, he’d trailed by 13 seconds, but Navardauskas took it when Rasmussen faltered.
Pulling on one of the most storied leader’s jerseys in the sport on the podium in Verona was more than Navardauskas expected. He’d only been pro for one full season when he rode the Tour de France in 2011. But claiming the leader’s jersey in a grand tour yesterday, the first time for a Lithuanian, was something entirely different.
“After a race, you usually go to the bus, take a shower and go to the hotel,” he explained in the press conference today. “Yesterday, it was going from one spot to another, to get to the hotel took forever. I was finally in my room, on my bed just before midnight. I thought, ‘Oh, I should just go to sleep!’”
He didn’t have time to check his phone to read the online news, but Lithuania was going crazy. His family and friends called and sent text messages all day, continuing even after he turned off his phone to sleep.
“He’s unassuming,” Peiper continued. “He doesn’t make any waves, he’s happy about everything. We had to pull him into the Giro at the last minute because of Thomas Dekker’s knee and what he was really worried about was that he was going to let us down because his form isn’t good enough… The first thing after the stage, he was apologizing to the guys because he couldn’t ride hard enough.”
Navardauskas broke his collarbone during Tirreno-Adriatico’s third leg in March. He was fighting back in Romandie, where he placed 117th overall and 17th in the time trial. Tomorrow, the Giro d’Italia travels to the Le Marche region, which features heavily at Tirreno, for an undulating stage that will likely end his pink jersey run.
“As a team we can still keep the jersey,” Navardauskas said, “We have Ryder Hesjedal.”
Navardauskas welcomes the step out of the lime light for now. He’s still discovering his talents, improving in time trialing, and his aptitude for the cobbled classics and long hauls. As an amateur, he jumped onto team manager Jonathan Vaughters’ radar with a win in the under-23 Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
“As a child, you dream to be a cyclist, you want to be a good, you want to be a pro… It all comes true. Then you want to win something,” he said. “To have this jersey means I really proved myself.”
To defend the maglia rosa over the 210 undulating kilometers to Porto Sant’Elpidio on Friday would perhaps be even more surprising than Navardauskas’ first trip to the podium on Wednesday. It would certainly prove that Peiper’s call on the eve of the Giro was the right one.