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Giro d’Italia stage 1: Pinotti swaps red, white and green for pink

Stage 1: Venaria Reale to Torino, 19.3km team time trial

A well-drilled HTC-Highroad team secured a dominant victory in the team time trial which kicked off the 94th Giro d’Italia. In front of hundreds of thousands of spectators on a sunny afternoon in Turin Marco Pinotti, wearing the red, white and green colours of the Italian national time trial champion, secured the pink maglia rosa of the race leader. With the notable exceptions of Joaquim Rodríguez and Igor Antón, most of the top general classification contenders finished in a narrow 15-20 second band at the upper end of the order.

Personally, I’m a fan of having a short team time trial to open up a Grand Tour. Compressed into a manageable couple of hours, it allows the viewer to familiarise themselves with the key riders and their teams’ colours, from the plain (the black-dominated strips of Sky and Leopard Trek) to the garish (the flourescent yellow of Farnese Vini or the instantly recognisable orange of Euskaltel-Euskadi).

The 19.3km route across Turin was both scenic and interesting, starting in Venaria Reale to the north-west of the city and ending on the cobbles of the Piazza Vittorio Veneto, by way of a route which was twisty and technical in the opening kilometres before opening out into a straight, wide middle section, with several tricky ninety-degree corners which are typical of city centre courses. The critical time in a team trial is that of the fifth rider to cross the finish line, meaning that a squad cannot afford to shed more than four of its nine riders en route.

HTC-Highroad celebrate victory in the team time trial, with Marco Pinotti wearing the leader's pink jersey (image courtesy of HTC-Highroad/TDWSport.com)

Omega Pharma-Lotto set the benchmark

First out of the start-house was Omega Pharma-Lotto, a team missing its three biggest stars: Philippe Gilbert, Jurgen van den Broeck and sprinter André Greipel. Their fifth man stopped the clock at 21:21, a quick time which became increasingly impressive as subsequent teams failed to get anywhere near beating it.

It came as little surprise that wild-card entrants such as Acqua & Sapone (the team of 2000 winner Stefano Garzelli) and Colnago-CSF Inox fell 40-plus seconds short of the benchmark time. Similarly, the poor performance of the Katusha and Euskaltel-Euskadi teams of Spanish climbing specialists Rodríguez and Antón, which would ultimately occupy 20th and 23rd (last) positions, was also entirely expected. But only when Rabobank, one of the strongest teams in this discipline, fell four seconds short did it become apparent quite how good Omega Pharma’s performance had been.

This was further underlined when Sky, fielding a relatively inexperienced squad but one hopeful of a good showing on this stage, could register only 21:36, fully 15 seconds down. And Geox-TMC, the team of past Grand Tour winners Denis Menchov and Carlos Sastre, were surprisingly a further 16 seconds back.

HTC-Highroad prove the biggest of the big guns

Rabobank aside, most of the big teams were running further down the order. Saxo Bank Sungard, the team of Alberto Contador and Richie Porte, the young Australian who led the race for three days and finished seventh overall last year, attracted considerable attention, and although they were within a second of the lead at the intermediate checkpoint, they eventually slipped to eight seconds behind.

Pinotti claimed the maglia rosa after a superb team effort (image courtesy of highroadsports.com)

Two teams later came HTC-Highroad, boasting a line-up including the red, white and green jersey of Pinotti, sprinter Mark Cavendish and lead-out man extraordinaire Mark Renshaw. They set off at a blistering pace, recording the fastest split time by a massive 11 seconds, and registering an identical advantage over the second half of the course to stop the clock with a new best time of 21:00 dead.

Of the nine remaining squads, only three – Garmin-Cervélo, Liquigas-Cannondale (the team of Vincenzo Nibali) and RadioShack – had a realistic chance of challenging HTC-Highroad’s time. Garmin found themselves reduced to just five men too soon to mount a serious threat and would eventually finish fifth, 24 seconds down. Liquigas were two seconds quicker. But, slightly surprisingly, it was RadioShack who would become the only other team to beat Omega Pharma’s time, finishing in 21:09 to give HTC-Highroad victory by ten seconds. Although with hindsight it should perhaps not have been so unexpected that a team drilled by the meticulous Johan Bruyneel, the architect of Lance Armstrong‘s seven Tour de France wins, would perform to their maximum potential on a day requiring clockwork teamwork.

Crucially, Cavendish led HTC-Highroad out of the final corner to allow Pinotti to cross the line first, giving the Italian the honour of being the first wearer of the maglia rosa on home territory. It was a classy move by the team and by Cavendish, who has often gotten himself into trouble with his outspoken nature and is frequently criticised for racing for stage wins and nothing else, and yet always speaks highly of his teammates’ effort.

Victory also marked the second time in succession that HTC-Highroad have won an opening team time trial at the Giro, having also been fastest in 2009. (Last year’s race kicked off with an individual time trial.) On that occasion, Cavendish was afforded the privilege of claiming the maglia rosa. Today it was Pinotti’s turn.

Even though Pinotti finished ninth overall last year, no one on either the HTC-Highroad or Omega Pharma-Lotto teams really represents a serious threat for the race win. It means that most of the major contenders such as Nibali, Contador and Michele Scarponi are separated by less than 20 seconds going into tomorrow’s second stage. It was a good day for RadioShack’s Tiago Machado, who holds a slim but psychologically useful advantage of up to 20 seconds on the aforementioned rivals. But for Menchov and Sastre, and particularly Rodríguez and Antón – the latter of whom is already 51 seconds adrift of Nibali – it will have done their cause no good at all to be put on the back foot so early in the race. It reduces their margin for error and, as Andy Schleck discovered at the Tour de France last year, an apparently insignificant handful of seconds lost on the opening day can make the difference between victory and defeat. He conceded 42 seconds to Contador in the prologue, and subsequently missed out on overall victory by just 39.

Pinotti expressed how honoured he was to be the race’s first leader, but was quick to acknowledge the efforts and preparation of his team:

It was a great team win. We showed that we were well prepared. It was a demanding course and it was even hard to get into that first position for the last corner. It was special to arrive in Turin with the Italian national champions jersey.

And Cavendish added on his Twitter stream:

I’m so proud of the guys today. Like a group of musketeers.

Stage two takes the peloton 244km from Alba to Parma on a flat stage which should favour a bunch sprint. After his day of glory, Pinotti will be doing everything he can to claim a second HTC win in support of Cavendish.

Stage 1 result:

1. HTC-Highroad 20:59

2. RadioShack +0:10

3. Omega Pharma-Lotto +0:22

4. Liquigas-Cannondale +0:22

5. Garmin-Cervélo +0:24

6. Lampre-ISD + 0:24

7. Rabobank + 0:26

8. Saxo Bank Sungard +0:30

9. Sky +0:37

10. Vacansoleil-DCM +0:37

11. Movistar +0:38

12. Androni-Giocattoli +0:39

13. BMC +0:41

14. Leopard Trek +0:42

15. Quick Step +0:42

16. AG2R +0:49

17. Astana +0:50

18. Geox-TMC +0:53

19. Colnago-CSF Inox +1:02

20. Katusha +1:04

21. Farnese Vini-Neri Sottoli +1:07

22. Acqua & Sapone +1:07

23. Euskaltel-Euskadi +1:13

Links: Giro d’Italia official websiteSteephill.tv

Giro d’Italia preview

Teams & sponsors (part 1)

Teams & sponsors (part 2)

Five key stages

Key contenders for the maglia rosa

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About Tim
Father of three. Bit of a geek. That's all, folks.

20 Responses to Giro d’Italia stage 1: Pinotti swaps red, white and green for pink

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