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Svein Tuft received the perfect birthday gift from his team-mates today, with the Orica GreenEdge squad powering around the Giro d’Italia course to win the team time trial, then allowing the Canadian rider to cross the line first. The 37 year old rider ended the day in the Maglia Rosa of race leadership, enjoying perhaps the brightest point of a ten year pro career.
“It is an amazing day. It started out with a lot of stress. I was thinking, ‘this is a pretty crazy way to spend your birthday. To finish on that note is great and I can’t thank my team enough for giving me that opportunity,” he said after the 21.7 kilometre stage in Belfast, Northern Ireland.
“I was just talking to Michael Hepburn and he said, ‘is this how it always is for a Grand Tour?’ I said, ‘no, this is a special day, man.’
“The team gave me the gift. It was really a birthday present. This team is really selfless in that way and I am just really fortunate to be given that gift on my birthday.”
Tuft and the Orica GreenEdge riders started off second out of 22 teams, largely avoiding the showers which rendered the course more dangerous for the later teams. They set a time which was approached by others but not beaten; Rigoberto Uran’s Omega Pharma Quick Step was nearest, five seconds back, while Cadel Evans’ BMC Racing Team was one place and two seconds further in arrears.
Given the tightness of those gaps, both Uran and Evans will be satisfied with the day.
“We’ve started in a good way,” said Evans, who is aiming to add this year’s Giro d’Italia to his 2011 Tour de France success. “I think we had the legs to do more. But in these conditions, we were a little bit unlucky with Brent Bookwalter’s crash and Ben Hermans’s puncture.
“It took a little bit of power away from us. But I think we rode well to get the results that we got. Compliments to the guys for that.”
Evans and the other GC contenders got a reminder that things could have been a lot more tricky on the wet city streets with Garmin-Sharp leader Dan Martin, one of those aiming for a high overall finish, crashing out little over halfway through.
The Irishman was the most badly affected of the four Garmin-Sharp riders who fell and was unable to complete the course. He was taken to hospital where a broken collarbone was later confirmed. His race ended after just over fifteen minutes; as for team-mate Ryder Hesjedal, the 2012 winner, his GC chances look to be at an end. The chaos caused by the crash saw the team limp in three minutes and 26 seconds behind Orica GreenEdge, the slowest time out of the 22 squads racing today.
Others fared better; Nicolas Roche’s Tinkoff Saxo was fourth, 23 seconds down, while Michele Scarponi’s Astana was sixth, 38 seconds off pink. The Cannondale and Movistar teams of Ivan Basso and Nairo Quintana were seventh and eighth respectively, limiting their losses to less than a minute. Given what happened to Martin, that will be a result that they will accept.
The Giro d’Italia continues tomorrow with a 219 kilometre stage starting and finishing in Belfast. It heads north out of the city, passes by landmarks such as the spectacular Giant’s Causeway and then travels alongside the Antrim coastline back to the city.
Rolling roads will be one issue facing the riders, although the hills are nothing too pronounced. Instead, high winds could be a factor, making it necessary to be both vigilant and well-placed.
Giro d'Italia (2.UWT) Belfast → Belfast