ALBA, Italy (VN) – The buzz at the start of Sunday’s second stage was around the HTC-Highroad bus, where journalists and fans packed in to catch a glimpse of the 94th Giro’s first pink jersey with Marco Pinotti.
The veteran Italian was hoping to hand off the jersey to teammate Mark Cavendish and slip quietly into the peloton after what was likely to be a one-day ride in pink.
“It was something special to take the jersey, especially racing in the national (time trial) jersey, but I know that I will not be able to truly contest for victory in this Giro,” Pinotti said. “This Giro has too many hard mountains for me. The other favorites will be the ones fighting for the maglia rosa in Milano.”
After the dust settled from Torino’s team time trial, most of the top GC favorites got out of Torino in one piece, ready for the looming battle in what’s heralded as the most difficult Giro in years. There were no crashes or mishaps to handicap any of the pre-race GC candidates, but a few did lose more time than they would have liked.
Liquigas-Cannondale “won” the duel between the pre-race favorites, crossing the line third at 22 seconds slower than HTC-Highroad, but two seconds ahead of arch-rival Michele Scarponi (Lampre) and eight seconds faster than Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-Sungard).
“I am very satisfied with the team’s performance. We arrived with eight together and the team rode a great time trial,” said Vicenzo Nibali. “There were not real big differences between the rivals, so we’re all starting pretty much at zero. This is more confirmation that the team is strong and ready to race.”
Lampre’s strong sixth-place performance, at 24 seconds back to tie with TTT-specialists Garmin-Cervelo, was a huge boon for Scarponi. Last year, riding with Androni, he lost a whopping 2:24 to eventual winner Ivan Basso in 33km, a handicap that latest cost him a shot at the podium. To come out near the top of the pecking order is a boost for Scarponi’s GC convictions.
“This proves that Lampre is a great team, not just for the climbs, but for the entire Giro,” Scarponi said. “To only lose a few seconds and even gain time on some of the GC rivals is a big boost to the morale. It’s a great way to start the Giro.”
Contador was quietly content with his team’s performance, right in the middle of the pack with eighth at 30 seconds back, but just eight seconds off Nibali’s time.
“With how hard this Giro is going to be, these differences won’t mean much, but it’s important to be as close as possible to riders like Nibali and Scarponi,” Contador said. “But look at riders like Menchov and Kreuziger, they lost 20-30 seconds, so that’s a little more significant. We’re satisfied because we didn’t want to take too many risks, so it’s a solid start to this Giro.”
Not everyone was pleased. Roman Kreuziger’s Astana crew was 17th at 50 seconds off the winning pace. The one-two GC punch of Denis Menchov and Carlos Sastre at Geox-TMC ceded 53 seconds to HTC after riding to 18th on the stage, but team boss Mauro Gianetti said that wasn’t a complete surprise.
“We’re 31 seconds to Nibali and 23 seconds to Contador. We expected we could lose 30 to 40 seconds, so with the team of climbers that we brought, we cannot be too disappointed,” Gianetti told VeloNews. “Of course, you would like to be at the front for the morale, but this Giro will be won in the mountains. And now we do not have the pressure to carry the race.”
Perhaps the biggest “loser” was Joaquim Rodríguez at Katusha, who saw his podium hopes take a blow when he lost 1:04 to HTC and more than 40 seconds to the likes of Nibali and Contador.
Euskaltel-Euskadi was last at 1:13 back, but the lean Basque climbers never do well in team time trials. With team captain Igor Antón hoping to win a stage in the mountains in the final week, the team time trial will likely be a faint memory for anyone still surviving in the Giro.