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Marcel Kittel (Giant-Shimano) celebrates his win in Belfast
Kittel joins Berzin, Bouhanni and Ferrari clash, Astana's day of pain
GC winners and losers in Ireland
At first glance, the first three stages of the Giro d’Italia should have been an easy few days for the general classification riders. It was anything but. The weather, tight roads and a nervous peloton made for a tough start.
We all know about Garmin-Sharp’s disastrous weekend - as Dan Martin crashed out and Ryder Hesjedal lost a hat-full of time on stage one, but how did the other GC contenders fair in Northern Ireland?
Rigoberto Urán (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) is sitting pretty at the moment, after his team’s performance in the team time trial. The Colombian arrives in Italy as the top general classification rider, 19 seconds behind the leader Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEdge).
BMC's Cadel Evans can also breathe a sigh of relief as he managed to avoid the big crashes on the wet roads of Ireland. He lost a little time on stages two and three, but is only a couple of seconds behind Urán, while Ireland's Nicolas Roche (Tinkoff-Saxo) had a pleasingly uneventful trip to his home country and is still in contention for a strong result, 18 seconds behind Uran. Michele Scarponi (Astana) had a mixed weekend, his Astana team put in a solid result in the opening stage but the Italian came down with several of his teammates on stage three and sits 22 seconds down on Uran.
The big losers of the weekend were the pre-race favourites Katusha and Movistar. Both teams had terrible team time trials, possibly due to the weather. Nairo Quintana (Movistar), has some 50 seconds to make up on his GC rivals, while Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha) is 1:28 down on Uran – a tough ask when you consider the time trials ahead.
Other contenders who would have wanted an easier ride this weekend are Wilco Kelderman (Belkin) and Przemyslaw Niemiec (Lampre-Merida). Both had meetings with the tarmac on Sunday and their team time trial results mean that they also have more than a minute disadvantage heading over to Italy.
How it stands after the three stages in Ireland:
8. Rigoberto Urán (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) +0:19
14. Cadel Evans (BMC) +0:21
27. Nicolas Roche (Tinkoff-Saxo) +0:37
32. Michele Scarponi (Astana) +0:41
59. Nairo Quintana (Movistar) +1:09
69. Wilco Kelderman (Belkin) +1:12
109. Przemyslaw Niemiec (Lampre-Merida) +1:34
116. Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) +1:47.
Kittel follows on from Berzin
Marcel Kittel (Giant-Shimano) celebrated his 26th birthday with a second consecutive sprint victory at the Giro d'Italia. According to Gazzetta dello Sport, the last rider to win a stage on their birthday at the Giro d'Italia - before this year - was a certain Evgeni Berzin, who won a stage in 1995 to Luino near Varese on the day of his 25th birthday.
The year before Berzin hit the headlines while riding for the all-conquering Gewiss team, coached by the infamous Dr. Michele Ferrari. He won three stages of the Giro d'Italia, the best young rider's jersey and took overall victory ahead of Marco Pantani and Miguel Indurain.
Of course Kittel is not the only rider to win on his birthday at this year's Giro d'Italia. Svein Tuft took a stage win and the pink jersey when his Orica-GreenEdge team rode to victory in Friday's team time trial, on his 37th birthday.
Membership of an exclusive stage winners' club
Kittel's two stage victories in Ireland also made him the thirteenth member of the list of riders currently in activity who have won stages in all three Grand Tours.
Alessandro Petacchi (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) currently leads the list, with 48 stage victories in the Giro d'Italia, Tour de France and Vuelta a Espana. His teammate Mark Cavendish is second with a total of 43 Grand Tour victories and Thor Hushovd (BMC) is third with 14 wins.
Kittel enters the list of 13 riders in eighth place. He has now won seven Grand Tour stages: two in the Giro d'Italia (2014), four at the Tour de France (2013) and one in the Vuelta a Espana (2011).
Ferrari and Bouhanni go head to head
Roberto Ferrari (Lampre-Merida) was left frustrated at the end of stage three of the Giro d’Italia. The Lampre-Merida rider felt he could have done better, if FDJ's Nacer Bouhanni hadn't impinged him. The pair locked horns in the final metres of stage three, as Ferrari attempted to go around the outside. Bouhanni could be seen using his head to keep the Italian at bay, something Ferrari believes cost him a better result.
"I rode well today and was covered well by my teammates. In the finale I had the thought to get on the wheel of Kittel," said Ferrari. "In the last 300 metres the sprint got physical. When Kittel accelerated, I was ready to follow him, but Bouhanni touched me twice and made me lose my rhythm. These things sometimes happen when you’re fighting for such important goal as a Giro d’Italia stage. Next time I’ll try to find the best solution to avoid this happening to me again."
Ferrari crossed the line in seventh, while Bouhanni finished in fifth.
Astana's day of pain
Michele Scarponi was on the right side of a split in the peloton that cost all of his overall rivals 11 seconds but that marginal gain in Dublin was off little comfort to the Kazakhstani team after five Astana riders needed medical attention following a crash 55km from the finish.
Andrey Zeits became tangled with another rider on a roundabout and went down hard, with Scarponi, Valerio Agnoli, Enrico Gasparotto and Mikel Landa all joining.
Agnoli suffered a bruised ribcage on his right side that cold affect his overall hopes, Gasparotto scraped the right cheek of his face and has a large bruise under his eye, Landa injured two fingers on his right hand and has swollen knuckles and Scarponi scraped his left leg.
Zeits came off even worse: "I flew off into the road, my whole right side scraped on the asphalt and I knocked my head into a curb,” he said according to the Astana team.