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MORI, Italy (VN) — Ramunas Navardauskas (Garmin-Sharp) might have raised his hands in error yesterday after crossing the line second, but there’s no doubt that the Lithuanian is coming out as one of the revelations of this year’s Giro d’Italia.
The 25-year-old Lithuanian has been on a tear in the second half of the Giro. Once Garmin lost its GC options with the departure of an ill Ryder Hesjedal, the team cut him loose.
Navardauskas quickly delivered, winning stage 11 out of a breakaway. Over the past two days, he claimed bunch sprints in stage 16 for fourth and stage 17 for second, respectively.
“It’s been a very good Giro for me. I am very happy,” Navardauskas told VeloNews. “It’s a very big step to win the stage. What we are doing here is good. We still hope to show some things in the coming days.”
His Giro victory, coupled with a stage win at the Tour de Romandie, has confirmed what everyone inside the Garmin organization already knows.
“This Giro has shown Ramunas how good he is,” said Garmin sport director Charly Wegelius. “I think it’s an open book. There’s not a lot he cannot do in cycling. Maybe he’s a little bit big to get over huge mountains, but there are plenty of things to keep him busy.”
The 6-foot-3 Navardauskas had an impressive under-23 career, capped by a victory in the espoirs Liège-Bastogne-Liège while racing with Velo Club La Pomme Marseille in 2010.
Garmin picked him up in 2011 and surprised many when the team tapped him to race the Tour that same year. He proved an able teammate, helping motor the squad to the team time trial victory and the team GC prize, and made it to the finish line in an impressive grand tour debut.
Last year, Navardauskas snagged the pink jersey when Garmin won the team time trial in stage 4 of the Giro before helping pace Hesjedal to win the overall. Later in the season, he rode to second overall at the Tour of Denmark to confirm his promise as a stage racer.
Wegelius said the future is bright for Navardauskas, who can also do well in the classics, time trials, and shorter stage races.
“He’s got a huge engine. Hopefully he realizes how good he is. There are a lot of one-week stage races he could win, perhaps a Milano-San Remo, or a world championships,” Wegelius said. “I hope that the fact that he is such a nice guy doesn’t get in the way of his ambition. He is always the first to come back to get water bottles.”
Navardauskas has helped raise the spirits of his stricken Garmin teammates, who have been hobbled by crashes, illnesses, and otherwise bad luck.
“This year, it’s just been bad luck from the beginning. Our silver lining is the ‘honey badger,'” said Peter Stetina. “It’s all about Ramunas, it’s pretty amazing.”
Navardauskas picked up the nickname a few years ago when a youtube video was going viral.
“It was during the Circuit de la Sarthe. The ‘honey badger’ video went viral at the same time, and he was just doing ridiculous stuff that defied all logic of strength, and it just caught on,” Stetina explained. “We started calling him the honey badger. It still fits to this day.”
For Navardauskas, the future is bright. Even he doesn’t know where the roads will take him.
“I have no idea, actually. I can do everything OK. You never know when the legs are going to be good,” he said. “I am trying to help the team, to get into breakaways, to try to win a stage. I am trying to do my best. You never know when is your day. You have to try to take the chance.”
Navardauskas certainly lives up to his nickname. He’s not afraid of much.