As the Giro d’Italia takes a brief hiatus while the caravan transfers from Dublin to Bari on Monday, the first stock taking exercise of the race shows Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha) as the overall contender with the most ground to make up following the troika of Irish stages.
A disjointed showing from Katusha the opening team time trial means that Rodriguez arrives in Italy with 1:28 to recoup on Rigoberto Uran (Omega Pharma-QuickStep), 1:26 down on Cadel Evans (BMC) and 38 seconds behind Nairo Quintana (Movistar).
On crossing the finish line in Belfast on Friday evening, the normally loquacious Rodriguez could scarcely hide his disappointment, pedalling off to the team bus with barely a word for reporters. His teammate Luca Paolini, however, is confident that Rodriguez will be able to rebound from that showing when the race resumes in Italy on Tuesday.
While next Saturday’s mountaintop finish at Montecopiolo is widely viewed as the first major rendezvous of the race, Paolini believes that the brace of hilltop finishes that precede it – at Viggiano and, in particular, at Montecassino – could provide Rodríguez with an early opportunity to strike back, with a ten second time bonus on offer for the stage winner.
"I think he has to take every chance that presents itself now, whether it's a big mountain finish or a smaller hilltop finish," Paolini told Cyclingnews. "I think he has to try and make the difference there and try to pick up some time bonuses. It’s definitely a bit of an uphill struggle for us at this Giro but if Purito is going well, then he can do it."
Katusha's team time trial result was mitigated in part by the fact that their effort came during the heaviest rain shower of the evening, but winners Orica-GreenEdge also had to deal with similar conditions. In any case, Dan Martin’s crash and subsequent abandon later in the evening put Rodriguez and Katusha's travails in some perspective.
"We were unlucky because we had to ride in the rain but even if that could be a justification of sorts, we still went badly in the team time trial and we caused Joaquim to lose some important time," Paolini said. "But it went worse for some other guys – Daniel Martin had to abandon after what seemed a routine fall, whereas we still have possibilities. We know the terrain is there for Joaquim to make up the time. We've got a lot of stages coming up where he can win or at least go for the bonuses."
The veteran Paolini made a belated Giro debut twelve months ago, and instantly made up for lost time by slipping away to win at Marina di Ascea and holding the pink jersey for much of the opening week. This time around, however, Paolini's role is rather different – he is the man who has been delegated to shadow and protect Rodriguez in the peloton and guide him through the nervous opening stages.
"I'm the man who is constantly at Purito's side in the peloton, to keep him out of trouble. That’s my role this year and I'm very happy to carry it out," said Paolini, who explained that the wet and windy conditions in Ireland, demanding as they were, could have been a lot more exacting.
"For the most part it was a headwind on Saturday instead of a crosswind, so rather than take risks to push up to the front, we were able to spend quite a bit of the stage nearer the back of the bunch. The situation was under control."
Even so, Paolini admitted that many in the Giro peloton would be glad to leave the unfamiliar roads of Ireland behind and return to – presumably – more clement conditions in Italy. "I think all the riders are grateful to the people of Ireland for the welcome they've put on here, but at the same time, we'll all be glad to get back to some sun and warmth in Italy," he said. "And at least for us at Katusha, our Giro will start in Bari."