Savoldelli on song, McEwen scorching and Petacchi leaves early in Belgium
By Les Clarke
The first four stages of this year's Giro belong to Robbie McEwen, with the Australian, riding on his team's home turf in the second biggest race of the year, notching up two wins on the sprint finishes to stages two and four. All of the four stages were run throughout southern Belgium, and the locals came out in full force to support what could be the year's most intruiging bike race.
Stage 1 - Saturday, May 6: Seraing - Seraing ITT, 6.2 km
Long enough to be called a stage, the first stage in Seraing was essentially a prologue, and at 6.2km it was a test against the clock that favoured a rider such as Francaise des Jeux's Bradley McGee, who won the Giro prologue in 2004.
The Australian went close, but it was defending champion Paolo Savoldelli (Discovery Channel) who showed that he's well over the illness he experienced at the Tour de Romandie and in fine form to try and make it back-to-back overall victories with a time of 7'50" that won him the stage and the first maglia rosa of 2006.
It was a performance a la Armstrong, whereby Savoldelli's rivals were sent a very clear message that the defending champion was going to take the battle to the challengers very early in proceedings. It also confirmed what most observers already knew: that this year's Giro was going to be a very tough, competitive three weeks throughout Belgium and Italy.