In a race bereft of possible sprint finishes and on a broiling afternoon on a flat city centre circuit, going on the offensive on stage 1 of the Giro d'Italia was an exercise in tilting at windmills, but Cameron Wurf (Cannondale) gladly took up that quixotic challenge in Naples on Saturday.
The Australian went on the offensive early in the stage, first as part of a seven-man group and then striking clear alone with over 70 kilometres still to race. With Omega Pharma-QuickStep and Argos-Shimano marshalling affairs behind, Wurf was never allowed to stretch his lead out much beyond the two-minute mark. Even with the odds stacked so heavily against him, Wurf opted to take an optimistic outlook on his chances as he rode through Neapolitan streets eerily bereft of traffic.
"To be honest, I always give myself a chance of staying clear when I'm in a breakaway because I know how strong the guys are that work and I'm pretty good at calculating my effort," Wurf told Cyclingnews afterwards, his face caked in grime. "At the moment I've got a bit of bronchitis and I'm a little bit sick from Romandie, so I couldn't push as hard as I would have liked and I had to take it steady."
In spite of his admirable defiance, however, Wurf's dreams of the first maglia rosa of the Giro were always destined to remain just that, and he was swept up by the peloton with a shade under two laps of the finishing circuit still to go and stage honours went to Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-QuickStep).
After Cannondale lost its leader Ivan Basso to a perineal abscess two days before the start, morale was low in the camp on the eve of the race but Wurf was determined to put a different slant on the team's Giro.
"Obviously we lost our captain Ivan two days ago and that was tough, but [manager] Roberto Amadio said to us that it was important to show Cannondale was still here at the race and ready to compete," Wurf said.
Sparking the break of the day was one thing, but sallying clear alone with 70 kilometres still to race on a flat city-centre circuit is quite another, but Wurf explained the rationale behind his thinking. With breakaway companions Giovanni Visconti (Movistar) and Marco Canola (Bardiani-CSF Inox) both eyeing the mountains jersey, collaboration in the group was far from smooth.
"I think the Italian riders think they're a bit smarter than everyone else and no one wanted to work," Wurf said. "I don't like playing those games, I can't be bothered. They thought they were pretty clever. I just thought well, ‘if you want the points, you're going to have to work harder this time' and I pushed at a power I knew they probably couldn't handle and sure enough I went off on my own."
Wurf also got off the mark himself in the battle for the blue jersey, something which might become an objective later in the week. "I wasn't interested in taking the jersey but at least I wanted to get the tally started," he said. "It's a bit like playing Stableford golf you know. It's always better to score a point per hole than not score any, so you can just keep accumulating them stage by stage and who knows."
As Wurf sank back into the peloton after his lengthy stint off the front was brought to a halt, a phalanx of Cannondale riders brought Elia Viviani to the head of the peloton to contest the sprint, and he finished a close second to Cavendish. "Elia has great potential and we knew he'd be competitive in the sprints," said Wurf "I spoke at length with Elia and said that today we really needed to show we were here and I think we did that."
With that, Wurf set off in a bid to locate his team bus. After enjoying the limelight and the freedom of Naples for the afternoon, he now had to fight his way alone through the jostling crowds along the seafront and back towards Piazza del Plebiscito. He was another convict of the road with four Sundays still to go to Brescia.