Liquigas takes opening team time trial
Enrico Gasparotto led Liquigas over the line in La Maddalena, ensuring he took the race leader's Maglia Rosa and that his Italian team took the win. The 25 year-old from Friuli-Venezia Giulia rolled in with team leader Danilo Di Luca in a time of 33'35", 16 seconds better than Paolo Savoldelli's Astana team and 33 seconds better than Team CSC.
"It was great for the team. I am in great condition and it [going over the line first] was planned by the team," said Gasparotto after winning the day.
Two-time Giro Champion Savoldelli had looked like the day's winner when he led his Swiss team over the line with a time of 33'51". That time was enough to knock Team CSC, a strong time trial squad, out of the top spot but was not enough to contain the day's eventual winner.
Six teams after Astana crossed before Liquigas came home the day's winner but the finish was slightly confusing. Gasparotto led out of the final right-hander and continued to do so to the line. The blond-haired riders, known as Giallo, took the same time as his companions but was able to gain the overall lead by finishing first. This did not seem to please his team caption.
Di Luca seemed to be shouting 'Dove vai?' ('Where are you going?') to Gasparotto as he kept on the front over the line. After the finish he was questioned.
"I was not upset, it is important that we as a team win," said Di Luca, who wore the Maglia Rosa in 2005. "It was great test for the team. ... I am not upset."
"It's a big satisfaction for me. I'm a foreigner in an Italian team," said Liquigas' Charles Wegelius of the team win. "There are a lot of expectations at the start of the Giro. If I don't perform I feel responsibilities towards my teammates. The course played in my advantage today because there were climbs and corners, which are my strong points. ... As for the man who crossed the line first, it was hard to plan in a downhill with curves. Everybody is happy at the end. Are we going to defend the pink jersey now? I doubt it."
Savoldelli almost controlled the first day. The winner of Tour de Romandie's prologue time trial was briefly in the virtual lead. "We organized ourselves well during the course," he said at the finish. Regarding the near win, he added, "but we are happy because the Giro is long."
World Champion Fabian Cancellara saw that his team held the early lead over the twisty parcours. He crossed the line with David Zabriskie and another three of his teammates for a time of 34'08".
"It was a very difficult course and we will have to see," the Swiss said before Astana or Liquigas finished. "We have a young team and we will seek to defend our lead over the coming days." The lead slipped out of the Danish team's hands.
The surprise of the day went to Damiano Cunego's Lampre-Fondital team. The 2004 Giro winner has been working on his time trial form. He rode amazingly well in last year's Tour de France and solidified this talent over the winter with wind tunnel testing. The Italian team crossed the line 1'42" back on Liquigas.
"It is hard to ride a perfect time trial. There were no tactics but we just went out to do our work," he summarized.
How it unfolded
On a windy, warm and sunny Saturday afternoon on the northern tip of Sardinia, Stage 1 of the Giro d'Italia got underway with a spectacular team time trial of 25.6 kilometres from Caprera to La Maddalena.
Française des Jeux rider Carlos Da Cruz didn't start after he hurt his foot during the team presentation Friday on the aircraft carrier Garibaldi so only 197 riders started the 90th edition of the Giro d'Italia.
The first off at 15:30 on the twisting, complicated course across the rocky, open terrain was the Gerolsteiner team composed of ProTour leader Davide Rebellin and young riders. They set the fastest time of 35'10" until the second squad, Predictor-Lotto powered through the finish line with 35'06".
Euskaltel-Euskadi was on a good ride until a crash on one of the tight turns with 750 metres to go slowed the Basque boys. They ended losing about a minute waiting for their fifth man and finished in next to last place overall.
After setting the fastest intermediate time of 21'53", proudly led by World TT Champ Fabien Cancellara and followed by the stars and stripes of USA TT Champ Dave Zabriskie, CSC blasted across the line in La Maddalena to set the new fast time of 34'08", almost a minute ahead of Predictor-Lotto's 35'06", at the superb average speed of 45 km/h that would eventually bring them third on the day.
Then it was the turn of Team Milram, who was led in by their leader, sprinter Ale-Jet Petacchi with a good time that eventually got them 14th place, just behind Predictor-Lotto, and still over the 35 minute mark. Then the orange crush of Rabobank finished with a decent time for an eventual 17th place.
After a strong ride on the windy climb, Saunier Duval-Prodir powered across the line with led by Riccardo Riccò with a surprisingly fast 35'03", moving it into second overall and eventually 11th place. Out on the course, the word was that Acqua e Sapone was on a good ride as T-Mobile crossed the finish line with a respectable time of 35'23". The soap and water boys of Acqua e Sapone were next across the line in La Maddalena and powered into second place, under the 35 minute mark, with a speedy 34'38". The time was good for an eventual fifth overall.
Riding standard road bikes, French squad Ag2r Prévoyance came across the line with the slowest time so far, while Ceramiche Panaria, also on standard road bikes came in just a few seconds ahead of the French squad. Next, the Lampre-Fondital squad of Damiano Cunego was going all out with good times at the intermediate time checks and great riding by Marzio Bruseghin. The fuchsia and blue team rode home with 34'20", and an eventual fourth overall.
Tinkoff Credit Systems, who also came home under 35 minutes, in 34'42", had an excellent time for a young Russian squad.
Astana's aqua-coloured boys cruised the final curves into La Maddalena with five riders. The Swiss-Kazakh squad was close to CSC as the finish approached. Super descender Paolo Savoldelli took things in hand over the final twisting kilometres and the team surprisingly unseated CSC with the brilliant time of 33'51" to move into the lead of Stage 1.
Next to finish was the Red guard of French squad Cofidis led by Colombian Ivan Parra. It rode through a slow time, with Caisse d'Epargne quickly following. Another French team, Bouygues Telecom, soft pedalled in for a slow finish. It was followed by the Quickstep-Innergetic squad of Paolo Bettini, cruising through the finish line with a decent time of 35'03".
Out on the course, Discovery Channel with Vandborg, Hincapie and Popovych pumping hard were off to a fast start, because starting just behind them were the motivated acid green and blue train of Liquigas, who had the fastest time yet at the first time check. Discovery Channel was still riding fast at the second time check after 16 kilometres, one second ahead of CSC's time and just a few seconds off Astana's pace. But it was the Liquigas boys, still with seven riders who were in charge of the situation. They blasted through the second time check after 16 kilometres with 21'36, seconds faster than Astana and they looked like winners the closer they got to La Maddalena.
Disaster struck Discovery Channel in the final kilometre when team leader Yaroslav Popovych crashed on a tight right-hand bend with 800 metres to go. As the Disco boys had only five riders, they had to wait for 'Popo' and ended up losing perhaps 30". Discovery Channel finished fifth in 34'27" but might have gotten past CSC's 34'08" for third if Popovych had not crashed.
As Discovery Channel had their drama, it was Liquigas that were headed for victory in La Maddalena. Liquigas was led across the finish line in 33'35" by former Italian Champion Enrico Gasparotto, who became the first Maglia Rosa in the 90th Giro d'Italia, while the eight men of Française des Jeux wrapped up the race last with a super-slow, non-competitive time of 36'28".
It was Liquigas first, a surprisingly plucky Astana second and CSC third, with a solid ride for fourth by Cunego's Lampre squad. Stage one's big winner among the contenders at this years Giro must be Liquigas leader Di Luca, who gained 13" on his rival Paolo Savoldelli (Astana), 42" on Damiano Cunego (Lampre) and 52" on Yaroslav Popovych (Discovery Channel), while Saunier Duval's Gilberto Simoni and Riccardo Riccò lost 1'25".
Tomorrow's stage 2, starting in the small northern Sardinian town of Tempio Pausania, heads east along the Gulf of Asinara, then through Sassari, south over the Villanova Monteleone climb and then descends to the finish in Bosa. Milram's Ale-Jet Petacchi will be looking for the sprint win, but he'll have to get past CSC's emerging fast man JJ Haedo and fend off Predictor's Rockin' Robbie McEwen and new Maglia Rosa Gasparotto.