By Lennard Zinn
If there ever was a day to break some records for time trialing, this was it. The course for the prologue of the 84th Giro d’Italia was short, completely flat and straight as an arrow. The weather was overcast and cool, with a tailwind. Always an opportunist, Rik Verbrugghe took advantage of the conditions to set a record that will probably stand for a very long time.
The Lotto-Adecco rider covered the 7.6km along the Abruzzi coast at a blazing pace of 58.874kph, the fastest average time trial speed in professional cycling history, eclipsing the storied record Tour time trial speeds of riders like Armstrong, Lemond and Indurain. As for Giro time trial records, Alex Zülle had set the previous records in 1998 for all Giro time trials (53.771kph for 40km) and for a prologue (53.053kph for 7km), both more than 5 kph slower than Verbrugghe today!
When Verbrugghe finished two hours before the race favorites were to come through, the question was not whether his lead would hold, but rather, if he had gone that fast, would riders like Olano, Gonchar, Frigo and Ullrich go over 60 kph? But the Belgian has had plenty of practice riding very fast with the big stars breathing down his neck in bigger races than this (his Flèche Wallonne win April 18 comes to mind), and they did not breathe hard enough this day. Frigo came closest, at nine seconds, while Olano barely managed to break into the top 10 and was even beaten by the two Czechs and one of the other Spaniards on his own ONCE-Eroski team. Gonchar finished just behind in 11th, and Ullrich finished 85th, 39 seconds down. Paolo Savoldelli (Saeco), winner of the last big stage-race prologue at the Tour de Romandie two weeks ago, finished only 21st.
Of the 180 riders rolling down the starting ramp to kick off the Giro, none were dressed more wildly than Mario Cipollini. He looked like a flayed man in his Saeco full-body skinsuit, as it was printed like the muscles on an anatomy model. We are waiting with bated breath to see the new Cannondale bike he will be breaking out for stage 3. It is being kept tightly under wraps at his big red team truck.
Another American product was at the fore today, as ONCE-Eroski riders placed four riders in the top 10 and 5 in the top 15 on Hed3 three-spoke aero wheels built in the same molds as the former Specialized-DuPont wheel.
84th GIRO D’ITALIA, Prologue, Pescara, May 19.
1. Rik Verbrugghe (B), Lotto-Adecco, 7.6km in 7:44.72 (58.874kph); Dario Frigo (I), Fassa Bortolo, 7:53; 3. René Andrle (Cz), ONCE-Eroski, 7:55; 4. Jan Hruska (Cz), ONCE-Eroski, 7:57; 5. Andrea Peron (I), Fassa Bortolo, 7:57; 6. Andrea Noé (I), Mapei-Quick Step, 7:58; 7. Rouslan Ivanov (Mda), Alessio, 8:00; 8. Isidro Nozal Vega (Sp), ONCE-Eroski, 8:02; 9. Marco Velo (I), Mercatone Uno-Stream TV, 8:02; 10. Abraham Olano (Sp), ONCE-Eroski, 8:03; 11. Sergei Gonchar (Ukr), Liquigas-PATA, 8:03; 15. Alvaro Gonzales (Sp), ONCE-Eroski, 8:06; 21. Paolo Savoldelli (I), Saeco, 8:08; 40. Davide Rebellin (I), Liquigas-PATA, 8:14; 48. Mario Cipollini (I), Saeco, 8:16; 50. Gilberto Simoni (I), Lampre-Daikin, 8:17; 52. Ivan Gotti (I), Alessio, 8:18; 56. Danilo DiLuca (I), Cantina Tollo-Acqua&Sapone, 8:19; 67. Stefano Garzelli (I), Mapei, 8:21; 68. Francesco Casagrande (I), Fassa Bortolo, 8:21; 85. Jan Ullrich (G), Deutsche Telekom, 8:23; 128. Marco Pantani (I), Mercatone Uno-Stream TV, 8:33; 130. Kevin Livingston (USA), Deutsche Telekom, 8:33;172. Ivan Quaranta (I), Alexia Alluminio, 8:45;