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Scooping its biggest ever win and simultaneously propelling Christian Vande Velde into the first...
Vande Velde salutes the crowd in Palermo, Sicily.
Scooping its biggest ever win and simultaneously propelling Christian Vande Velde into the first American maglia rosa since Andy Hampsten 20 years ago, Slipstream Chipotle H30 thundered to team time trial success on day one of the Giro d'Italia.
Finishing with only five men in front, the American team scorched the 23.6 kilometre course in a time of 26 minutes and 32 seconds, six faster than CSC and a further one ahead of High Road. Vande Velde crossed the line just ahead of US TT champion Dave Zabriskie and in doing so, took the first Grand Tour leader's jersey of his career.
"This is amazing," the clearly delighted 31 year-old said. "I don't really think about being the first American in pink in 20 years, I think more about how much of a big coup it was for myself and the team.
"We came here with one objective and one objective only, and that was to win today. We did that. It is a pretty unreal thing to do, especially when you are a second division team and in your first year of really getting together. We are over the moon."
Vande Velde has spent much of his career in support of other riders, helping Lance Armstrong to his first Tour de France success in 1999 and riding for both US Postal and CSC. He moved to Slipstream Chipotle H30 over the winter and now has a chance to have a bit more ambition. When asked if today's success was payback for all the effort he had put in for others, he said that it could perhaps be seen as that.
"That is a good way to put it," he said. "This [being in the pink jersey] is the picture that will be on our wall or the things that I will say to my grandchildren. I mean, my career is not over, I don't want to say that this is it, but at the same time it is an amazing achievement and definitely the highlight of my career so far."
Zabriskie spoke to the media immediately after his time trial and gave his reaction to the squad's effort. Sporting his now-customary moustache plus a new Captain America shield motif on his TT helmet, he said that they were pleased with how the race against the clock went.
"We have been practicing for about a week and a half, so we prepared as best we could. We have to be satisfied with however we do [in terms of results].
"Christian was first over the line...just in case we won, I didn't want the jersey...it's too much hassle with the press," he added, laughing. "For sure this [the TTT] was our biggest motivation of the race. I think we will be a little more relaxed now, we were pretty stressed beforehand."
Vande Velde confirmed that there was no premeditated plan to have him cross the line first. "The main thing was that we wanted to win today," he said. "We didn't want to take the chance of making Dave go first or myself go first, because to lose by one second would be horrible.
"First and foremost we wanted to win the stage, and if one of us happens to be the first across the line, it is just luck or whatever. We didn't want to take a chance to achieve that. So we never decided. It was open. We just wanted to be the fastest people across the line.
CSC made a strong effort but were a few seconds shy of the bullseye at the end. Michael Blaudzun spoke to Cyclingnews after the finish and said at that point he didn't know if they had done enough or not. "I don't know if we got it at the end...it is pretty close," he stated. "The course was harder than I expected, because when you see it on the map you don't think there are so many corners there. But there are a lot of them when you actually ride it. And the little climb out there was harder than we had thought.
"The team was super strong. We will have a good Giro for sure. If we can get a man in the top ten or two men in the top twenty it will be good, that is our goal. We don't have a real captain, but we have some young guys with good talent."
Although the Astana team came to the race with very little notice - and thus very little in the way of ideal preparation - the fact that it had riders of the calibre of Tour de France champion Alberto Contador, Levi Leipheimer and Andreas Klöden meant that many were curious to see how they would do. In the end the riders performed satisfactorily rather than spectacularly, finishing 29 seconds back in seventh place.
"I think we did a pretty good time trial regardless of how the other teams performed," said Contador. "After so much time away from racing, we can't be dissatisfied with how we did. We could have gone a little better, but all things considered, we have to be content.
"This Giro is long, and with Levi and Andreas, we can expect to be among the protagonists. I started okay, but I was struggling to hold the wheel at the end. I hope to get better as the Giro progresses. Overall, we're happy to be in the race."
The LPR Brakes team of defending champion Danilo Di Luca finished just ahead of Astana, limiting its losses. Di Luca had said yesterday that he'd be content to concede just 20 seconds; the riders were eight seconds off this target, but he's unlikely to see the day as a disaster.
The Rabobank team of Denis Menchov will be less happy. They were only 16th, losing one minute and three seconds to Vande Velde's Argyle army.
It's certain that the latter squad will take great satisfaction from their performance. They worked hard on their TTT in the leadup to the race, and were the only team today seen wearing ice vests during the warm-up. The measure is intended to keep the core temperatures down; it's impossible to know how much of a part that might have played in their success today, but they were certainly the coolest squad out there on day one of this Tour of Italy.
Morning rain had made the streets slippery, but with the late start of 15:30 and the rain having stopped it was unlikely that the weather would have much of an impact on the outcome. The first team to set off down the start ramp was Milram, minus their star sprinter Alessandro Petacchi. The Italian was suspended for a year a few days ago and it was Erik Zabel in the captain's role. The milk team could take it easy, however, not expecting to fight for the win today.
It was a different story for highly motivated Tinkoff Credit Systems. They set the early mark with 27'05, beating Milram by some 12 seconds. Caisse d'Epargne, Saunier Duval-Scott, Serramenti PVC Diquigiovanni-Androni Giocattoli all followed, but none could touch the squad of Oleg Tinkov.
It was Slipstream that raised eyebrows for their gutsy ride - and for sacrificing David Millar who couldn't follow his own pace in the final kilometre. Instead, it was Christian Vande Velde who led home the American team in 26'32, more than half a minute faster than Tinkoff.
Astana were next on the road, but were nine seconds off the pace at the intermediate check (kilometre 10.4) and eventually finished with 27'01 - a half minute behind Slipstream. Euskaltel rode through next, seemingly in a different kind of contest - trying to come last. Their time of 27'49 made them a strong contender.
Team CSC were next to come blasting by, eight seconds ahead of Slipstream at the 10 kilometre check. Then Barloworld shaved off another second at the halfway point. However, both teams faded to finish with 26'38 and 26'46 respectively.
High Road were going all out for the win but the team almost lost Kanstantsin Siutsou in the closing stages. It took some very kind (and loud) words of encouragement from Bradley Wiggins to get the Belarusian back in the pace line. That may have lost them the race, as they finished in third, only six seconds back.
The last team to put Slipstream in danger was Liquigas, but they too lost valuable time in the final part of the course. However, a fourth place with a time of 26'41 was nothing to be ashamed of. The only question left to answer was who would be the lanterne rouge? It was Française Des Jeux who ended up 'beating' Euskaltel, with a 27'59 - having the pride to finish under 28 minutes.