BELFAST, Northern Ireland (VN) — It might sound like a cliché in grand tours when riders say “take it one day at a time,” but Friday’s 21-kilometer opening team time trial at the 97th Giro d’Italia proved yet again that disaster can strike at any moment.
More than a few of the GC contenders lost time or were completely out of the picture barely out of the gate in the season’s first three-week grand tour.
Irish superstar Daniel Martin (Garmin-Sharp) touched wheels and crashed heavily, not only ending his Giro ambitions in an instant, but also those of 2012 champ Ryder Hesjedal, who didn’t crash, but lost 3:26 to stage winner Orica-GreenEdge as the five untouched Garmin riders were last across the line.
“Today was a tough day, and means a change in strategy for us,” said Garmin sport director Charly Wegelius. “It’s a heartbreak, for Dan in particular. We all know how much this meant to him, but this gives us motivation. We’ll just keep fighting forward.”
Another rider suffering potentially crippling losses was 2012 Giro runner-up Joaquim Rodríguez, whose Katusha team could only muster 19th out of 22 starting teams, at 1:33 back. Rodríguez, who lost the 2012 Giro to Hesjedal by just 16 seconds, knows that cycling’s other cliché — that every second counts — also holds true.
“This wasn’t what we expected. We lost time to [Cadel] Evans and [Rigoberto] Urán,” Rodríguez said. “Just one minute before our start, it started to rain. If you look at both Movistar and Lotto-Belisol, who also started near us, they also didn’t do good times. I think many teams raced with wet roads, but a few raced on dry roads. This made all the difference on the technical sections.”
Gusting winds, ever-changing weather conditions marked by a heavy dousing during the middle part of the race, sealed the fate of several GC favorites.
Orica-GreenEdge started second out of the gate, and made it halfway through the course before rain started to fall. Middle starters, such as Katusha and Movistar, raced entirely through the rain before the late starters, such as Omega Pharma-Quick Step and BMC Racing, were able to compete in improving conditions as the rain let up, and roads began to dry.
“The real trick was that the wind was never coming from one way, always blustering, it made for a difficult time, a dangerous parcours on narrow roads,” said pink jersey Svein Tuft, who led Orica across the line on his 37th birthday. “You can never overlap the wheels out there, as you saw with Garmin. One mistake and you pay. We do drill to be ready for that.”
Movistar boss Eusebio Unzué said his team’s day 1 mission was damage control, and he was satisfied to place pre-Giro favorite Nairo Quintana safely in eighth, 55 seconds slower than Tuft and Co.
“Considering the conditions, we have to be happy that no one crashed. We know this is a country where the conditions can change from minute to minute, and we knew that there would be differences from teams starting one hour before us,” Unzué said. “The time gaps? Well, the Giro is very long, but it’s always better to have them in your favor than against you. It’s not good that Urán and Evans already have an advantage.”
As Unzué suggested, Urán and Evans came up the big winners on the day. Tuft might have the pink jersey now, but no one expects anyone from Orica to be within striking distance of the podium once the Giro turns into the final week across the Dolomites.
Omega Pharma, the defending world team time trial champion, proved once again it’s solid in the discipline, even when big motors such as world time trial champion Tony Martin are not on the line. The Belgian team, captained by 2013 Giro runner-up Urán, stopped the clock for the day’s second fastest time, five seconds slower than Orica. Evans’ BMC squad was third, at seven seconds.
“I am very happy about the start of this Giro. Even if we were not the favorites, we came here to win the team time trial,” said Urán. “We didn’t win, but we took a few seconds on the GC contenders. It’s only the first day of the race, but I’m satisfied.”
The same goes for BMC, which dodged a bullet when American Brent Bookwalter escaped relatively unscathed from a pre-stage training crash. Evans, third overall last year, took some significant gains on his rivals.
“We’ve started in a good way. For the GC, I think our result is quite promising,” Evans said. “We already made some gains on some of the favorites, and that is favorable for the overall.”
The fight for pink is just starting, but in a race for which there is no single rider expected to dominate, Friday’s wild team time trial might have put the nails in the coffins for more than a few GC hopefuls.