BELFAST, Northern Ireland (VN) — Orica-GreenEdge will race for the win and the pink jersey in the Giro d’Italia’s opening stage Friday. The race kicks off in the streets of Belfast with a team time trial — the Australian team’s specialty.
“We want to win,” sports director Matt White told VeloNews. “Every team time trial we go into, we want to win. We practice and prepare for them, so we expect to win. And we know we have a team for it.”
Orica has a good record against the clock. Its first major European win came in the TTT at the 2012 Tirreno-Adriatico stage race. Last year the team won the Tour de France’s time trial in Nice and put Simon Gerrans in the yellow jersey as a result.
The Australian squad has twice finished on the podium at the team time trial world championships since the discipline’s reintroduction in 2012, missing gold by 0.81 seconds to Omega Pharma-Quick Step in 2013. That silver medal came on a course more than twice as long as the one featured in the Giro.
The 21.7-kilometer course in Belfast starts at the Titanic shipyard, passes the Stormont Parliamentary Building, and finishes in front of the city hall. It looks good for Orica, given its similarities to the 25km course in Nice.
“It compares nicely,” White said. “It’s a similar distance, it’s flat, and there’s one little climb, which the Tour didn’t have a climb. Except for that one climb of 400 meters [to parliament], it’s the same. And the Tour team trial went well for us!”
White brought a nine-man team specifically for the goal of a stage 1 win. The team in blue and white features Italian champion Ivan Santaromita, Canadian strongman Svein Tuft, Dutchman Pieter Weening, and Aussies Luke Durbridge, Michael Hepburn, Brett Lancaster, Michael Matthews, Cameron Meyer, and Mitchell Docker.
“The order of the train is important, for sure. We know the guys’ qualities and strengths. We are lucky in this Giro because we have an even team. Otherwise, when you have a mixed team, where you position the guys becomes more important. We have five time trial riders and a couple of other strong guys, so it’s not such a big issue,” White said. “Cam Meyer will start off for us tomorrow. He does a very good job. If you start too slow, you lose too much time. If you start too fast then you put the team directly in the red. You need someone who’s very good at pacing for that first turn.”
Matthews and Santaromita could be the weak links on Friday, but have their purpose later on. Respectively, they will help the team with its goal of winning a sprint stage and riding well in the overall classification. White added, “Our first priority, however, is the time trial tomorrow.”
Without world time trial champion Tony Martin, Omega Pharma loses some of its power. White said BMC Racing and Sky worry him the most. Movistar and Belkin should also ride well.
Orica will test the course on Friday after the city closes the road to the public for practice between 10:00 a.m. and 12:00 p.m. local time.
White already drove around the streets, however, and said Thursday that the route was not overly technical.
“It’s not that technical of a course,” he said. “Even if rain is predicted, it’s safe enough.”
He added that the team would use normal time trial setups, even with rain and 25 kph winds predicted. The only thing it might do is let some pressure out of its tires.
After a random draw Thursday morning, Orica sits second in the starting order. Five minutes after Colombia, at 5:55 p.m., it will depart for what the team hopes is a pink-jersey and stage-winning run.