Chris Froome's bid to win his first Giro d'Italia started with a clear time trial defeat by arch-rival Tom Dumoulin (Team Sunweb) on Friday as the Briton shipped 37 seconds to the Dutchman in stage 1's short but punishingly difficult race against the clock.
Froome's day had not begun at all well after he crashed heavily, albeit at a slowish pace, when testing his line on a corner of the technical time trial at race speed. Although the Team Sky rider fortunately only suffered surface wounds, and although he did not seem to have any problems pedalling in the time trial itself, as Froome drily put it later, "when you crash, it always hurts."
With no team buses shipped over for any of the squads in Israel, Froome spent a lengthy period of time sitting at one end of the long white tents that housed the Team Sky operations at the start/finish area, talking to Team Principal Dave Brailsford and other members of staff.
Then having warmed down on the rollers as usual, watched and filmed by a waiting throng of journalists and well-wishers, Froome took a pragmatic approach to his defeat in the interviews, pointing out that such an emphatic victory by Dumoulin was not so surprising, and that his strategy for winning the Giro d'Italia this year was based on damage limitation in the time trials, not gaining an advantage.
"My compliments to Tom, because it was a very difficult, very technical course and I'm glad I didn't lose more time. To come here and win out of the blocks - that's seriously impressive, so congrats to him," Froome said afterwards. Asked how he rated his own performance, Froome said he had never expected to win the stage - "not at all" and pointed out that while he was behind Dumoulin in the overall standings, he was not so far back.
"There are other GC riders there or thereabouts" - at 37 seconds, like Froome. "Tom and Rohan Dennis (BMC Racing Team) were the ones who really gained time today, but there's still a long way to go."
As much as the time lost, the key questions of stage 1 were the consequences of the crash, which happened as Froome came out of a corner with about three kilometres to go while training. "I was braking and turning at the same time," he said. Although he said he was only riding at 30 kmh or so, having fallen Froome skidded across a chunk of tarmac, coming to a halt at the end of a line of barriers. The scrapes and bruises on his right knee from the crash were visible as he warmed down, but Froome said he was certain the damage would not affect him long term.
"A crash is always going to hurt, for sure. I'm just glad it wasn't more serious. You can see that with Kosta (Kanstantsin Siutsou - Bahrain-Merida, who crashed, went over the bars and hurt his neck badly while training on the Jerusalem course -Ed.), who's in hospital now."
Of his other rivals, Froome singled out Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott), who lost only 20 seconds, at 12:22, and finished seventh, for praise, calling it "really impressive, a good little ride by him." But there are others. Domenico Pozzovivo (Bahrain-Merida), who already showed strongly against Froome in the Tour des Alpes, finished 10 seconds up on the Briton, while Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) finished six seconds ahead. Ohers, like Esteban Chaves (Mitchelton-Scott), Fabio Aru (UAE Team Emirates) and Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana), were all still outstripped by Froome, though: as the Briton said, he finished in the middle of the GC pack, not at the bottom, by some way.
Dumoulin's emphatic victory, though, puts Froome at a clear disadvantage, even if the Dutchman now has the pressure to bear of leading the Giro d'Italia.
"It's not surprising about Tom. He's the world time trial champion, and congrats to him," Froome repeated. "It [the maglia rosa] probably is [pressure] but he was in that position last year, but I'm sure he knows how to deal with it."
How Froome now deals with the Giro d'Italia after this early, but by no means decisive, defeat remains to be seen.
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Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.
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