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Giro d'Italia

Giro Notebook Stage 5: Tuft in green; Nava’ in pink

Canadian hardman working through the Giro with an eye toward uncertain Olympic selection

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Svein Tuft is finding his place with start-up Orica-GreenEdge.

At the Giro d’Italia, the Canadian all-rounder is working to help star sprinter Matt Goss in the sprint finales. It’s a new job for Tuft, but it’s one he’s taking on with gusto.

“We have good team objectives with the sprinters, we have some stages that suit our team very well,” Tuft told VeloNews. “I don’t really have the super-turbo like (Brett) Lancaster. I can help position [the team’s final lead-out riders] into the final couple of kilometers, when it’s all strung out. I can pull for a longer time. We are refining that at the moment. These finishes are quite tricky here at the Giro.”

Racing in his second Giro, the Canadian says the Italian grand tour is ideal to build a base of fitness for goals later in the season.

“This sets you up well for the rest of the year, if you have ambitions later in the season. 2010 really did me well, with the Eneco Tour,” he said. “It’s pretty hard to find any other race that’s this hard.”

While the Giro is his immediate focus, Tuft also has the 2012 Olympic Games on his radar screen.

Canada, however, only has one start position and that means there could be a real dogfight between Tuft, Ryder Hesjedal and Michael Barry to punch their respective tickets to London.

“You never know with the federation. Nothing is selected yet,” he said. “For me, you do your work. I do not put a lot of merit into (the selection process). This is our job. I just plan like I am going and that’s it.”

The fact that the rider who races the time trial also must toe the line for the road race could tip the balance toward Tuft, who is the current Canadian road and time trial champion.

Tuft represented Canada in the 2008 Beijing Games, riding to seventh in the time trial.

‘Nava’ keeps pink jersey in young hands

The opening days of the fight for the pink jersey are turning into a youth movement.

In Wednesday’s TTT, 21-year-old Taylor Phinney (BMC Racing) ceded the pink jersey to pal and fellow young rider Ramunas Navardauskas (Garmin-Barracuda), just 24.

Called “Nava” by his peers, Navardauskas rode steadily in the bunch Thursday to defend the maglia rosa on what was the first day for a Lithuanian to wear the jersey in Giro history.

The race jury ruled there was a split in the final sprint, however, and he lost five seconds to the sprinters, something that could prove costly if Friday’s stage comes down to a mass gallop.

Archrivals Matt Goss (Orica-GreenEdge) and stage winner Mark Cavendish (Sky) pulled within 13 and 14 seconds, respectively, meaning a win, and the 20-second finish-line bonus, would put them into pink. Navardauskas’ teammate Robert Hunter is first in line, however, now five seconds back.

That pink jersey calculus is irrelevant for Navardauskas, who became the first Lithuanian to don the maglia rosa in Giro history when Garmin powered to victory in Wednesday’s team time trial.

Phinney, who started the stage fifth, at 13 seconds in arrears, saw his pink jersey dream fade to black in Thursday’s hilly finale.

The American crashed late and never regained contact with the bunch in the hilly final 40km of the stage. After struggling during Wednesday’s team time trial, Phinney is still showing the fallout from Monday’s heavy crash that left him with four stitches in his ankle.

Phinney crossed the line 189th, at 12:02 back.

With that, he forfeits any hope of regaining the pink jersey. The immediate goal is recovering from his bumps and bruises, and to stay in the race.

Race Notes

The Jerseys
Stage winner: Mark Cavendish (Sky) wins his second stage of 2012 Giro, his ninth career Giro win
Pink leader: Ramunas Navardauskas (Garmin-Barracuda) finished in the bunch to defend pink, but was docked five seconds when the jury ruled a gap in the final sprint
Red points: Matt Goss (Orica-GreenEdge) sprinted to second in the stage to defend his points jersey
Blue mountains: Alfredo Balloni (Farnese Vini-Selle Italia) keeps the KOM jersey he won in stage 2
White young: Navardauskas also leads the young rider competition

Weather: More spring warmth
Another splendid day is on tap as the Giro nears the end of its first week, with temperatures in the high 70s F and light NW winds at 5-10mph.

Tomorrow’s stage: Into the hills

The 95th Giro continues Friday with the longest stage yet, a 210km march from Urbino to Porto Sant’Elpido. The lumpy stage, by far the most difficult so far, could see the Giro’s first breakaway pull clear to the finish.

The route features four rated climbs, but it’s up and down almost from tape to tape. The day’s main hurdle is the Giro’s hardest climb so far, with the Cat. 2 Passo della Cappella at 118km. The 4.5km climb features ramps as steep as 16 percent, enough to put some riders into the red, but too far away from the finish line to have much GC impact.

The Cat. 3 Monte Granaro climb at 33.75km to go should provoke some late-race attacks from stage hunters if a breakaway is not clear and away. The lumpy finale flattens out for the final 15km in what could be a reduced group bunch finish.