SESTOLA, Italy (VN) — Pieter Weening’s stage 9 win up the Sestola climb on Sunday capped a perfect run for Orica-GreenEdge at the 2014 Giro d’Italia.
“I’d hoped to get in an escape and go for a stage win in the coming days,” the Dutchman said. “I got it on the first one today. It was bingo! Nearly perfect.”
Weening’s win at the ski station on Passo del Lupo, which lies 1,538 meters above the Po Valley and Modena, closed a successful first chapter of Orica’s Giro that began in Belfast.
The Aussie squad won the team time trial by five seconds over Omega Pharma-Quick Step and put Svein Tuft in the Giro’s famous pink jersey after the opening stage. Michael Matthews grabbed the jersey the following day, and he held onto the maglia rosa until losing time in Sunday’s stage. In between, Matthews won stage 6.
The success did not come by chance. The team began selecting its Giro lineup six months ago. In February, it met at its European base in Girona, Spain, and practiced the team time trial.
“That was the first goal, try to win that,” Weening added. “We knew that if we won that, we’d get the pink jersey, the pressure would be off.”
Matthews, 23, talked to sport director Matt White and general manager Shayne Bannan ahead of the Giro. They agreed that if they won the team time trial or came close, Matthews would have his chance to take the pink jersey at the end of the first road stage in Belfast.
All went according to plan. “Bling” Matthews placed eighth in stage 2 and even though he was on the same time with Tuft, he took the pink jersey thanks to his better placing at the finish line.
During that day’s press conference in Belfast, Matthews spoke about the other goal that he planned with White and Bannan: win stage 5 or 6.
Back in Italy a few days later, Nairo Quintana (Movistar) let open a gap in the group when they approached Viggiano at the end of stage 5. Matthews shot around and ahead, but the effort fell short and he placed sixth.
The next day to Montecassino’s abbey, however, worked out for the squad. The squad rode at the front with Omega Pharma and BMC when a crash took down over a quarter of the peloton with 11 kilometers left. Matthews made the nine-man split with Cadel Evans and after hitching a ride with his countryman up the final climb, he surged ahead with about 40 meters remaining and claimed victory.
Some criticized BMC and Orica for pushing ahead when a large portion of the peloton had fallen near the base of the finishing ascent, but Weening said the team’s planning helped.
“Matthews won his stage partly because we were riding in front,” Weening explained. “There was the crash, yes, but he was in good shape and won the stage. Sometimes you need good luck but sometimes you have to make it yourself.”
Weening helped the team take win No. 3 and his second, after the Orvieto stage in 2011. Following the successful opening run, it came a little easier.
“There’s a good atmosphere in the team, anything we do now is something extra it seems,” Weening said. “We had a perfect Giro so far, when you have a good start in a stage race like this, there’s not pressure anymore and it works out perfectly.”
Matthews’ crash during Sunday’s stage only slightly spoiled the party. Weening said when he saw him at the finish, he appeared to be OK and ready to continue after Monday’s rest day.