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Marcel Kittel wasted little time in adding to his list of Grand Tour stage wins, blasting home ahead of the rest of the peloton at the end of the first sprinting stage of this year’s Giro d’Italia.
The Giant Shimano rider was best into Belfast, hitting the line in front of Nacer Bouhanni (FDJ.fr), Giacomo Nizzolo (Trek Factory Racing) and recent Tour of Turkey stage winner Elia Viviani, whose Cannondale team drove hard in the finale to try to set him up.
Australian Michael Matthews finished outside the top six, placing eighth, but his position relative to Svein Tuft’s 89th on the stage saw him take over the Maglia Rosa as race leader.
The team’s pre-stage concern that Alessandro Petacchi (Omega Pharma Quick Step) could pick up the required time bonus to grab the lead didn’t materialise; Petacchi didn’t sprint in the finale.
Kittel’s victory follows up on his four stage wins in last year’s Tour de France. “I am so happy with how it worked out today, and to get the Giro off to a great start for not only me but the whole team,” he said.
“The finish went quite well considering it was pretty hard to get a lead-out going on the technical run-in. The guys set me up in position and even though I was a bit isolated I managed to come round the others in the last few hundred metres.
“This was our target, getting the Giro off to the best start possible on the flat sprint stages here in Ireland and to re-pay the team here for their confidence and hard work is a great feeling.”
The stage started in damp conditions but Maarten Tjallingii (Belkin) was undeterred and attacked early on. His move spurred others into action and he was joined by Sander Armee (Lotto Belisol), Andrea Fedi (Neri Sottoli-Yellow Fluo) and Jeffry Johan Romero Corredor (Team Colombia).
They quickly opened a lead of almost seven minutes, although the Orica GreenEdge-led peloton reduced this slightly and monitored the advantage to make sure it didn’t get too out of hand.
Tjallingi was feeling good and picked up the two fourth category climbs on the stage. He still had some oomph left in the finale and struck out alone with eight kilometres left. However despite an impressive showing in holding off the bunch, he was finally reeled in just over three kilometres from the line, after which Kittel and the other sprinters played out the final act.
The new general classification sees Matthews open a three second lead over his next team-mates, namely Luke Durbridge, Ivan Santaromita and Tuft. Pieter Weening and Cameron Meyer fill the top six, with last year’s overall runner-up Rigoberto Uran (Omega Pharma Quick Step) the first from another team in seventh.
Matthews’ grip on the pink jersey is the first Grand Tour leadership of his career and was something that the team had aimed for in its pre-race strategy.
“The plan was to win the team time trial with the team we had here,” he explained. “We brought our strongest team for this discipline. The plan was to give Svein the jersey for his birthday yesterday and for all the hard word he does for us, and then for me today to try to run a place in the sprint, to take the jersey and see how long we can hold it for.”
Tomorrow’s third stage runs from Armagh across the border into the Republic of Ireland, with the capital Dublin hosting the finale. Another bunch sprint is predicted, but Kittel said that he was taking nothing for granted and that he and his team would avoid any complacency.
Giro d'Italia (2.UWT) Belfast → Belfast