Richie Porte (Saxo Bank) took the pink jersey at the end of a legendary stage finishing in L'Aquila 13 months after the dramatic earthquake that devastated the town at the centre of Italy. The heavy favourites of the Giro (Alexandre Vinokourov, Cadel Evans, Ivan Basso, etc.) arrived more than 12 minutes behind the group in which the best young rider had finished. The Australian now has a 1:42 lead over Spain's David Arroyo (Caisse d'Epargne).
"I'm still pinching myself," Porte said with the pink jersey on his shoulders. "It's incredible. They (the favourites) let us go up the road and get so much time. I didn't break any code. There were big names like Carlos Sastre in our group and a lot of power with riders from Sky, Caisse d'Epargne and my teammates who have done an exceptional job. We are a young team and we were underrated at the beginning of the Giro, but when you see someone like Chris Sørensen who won a stage the other day sacrificing himself for me, it's fantastic.
"When we had a six minute lead and more, it was always at the back of my mind that I could end up in pink but I didn't want to jeopardize my chances of getting it by my riding speed," he said. "It was a tricky finale as well."
Porte experienced a typical Tasmanian weather conditions on the roads to L'Aquila. "I've done a lot of riding in crappy weather like today," said the 25-year-old neo-pro who switched from triathlon to cycling in 2006. Porte migrated to Italy for racing as an amateur the year after through the connections of Michael Wilson who was the only Tasmanian stage winner at the Giro until Matt Goss two days ago. Wilson's son Josh informed Porte there was a spot available in Tuscany.
"To become the leader of a Grand Tour especially in Italy where I rode as an amateur, it's huge," said Porte who won the time trial of the Baby Giro one year ago and was directed to Saxo Bank by former Paris-Roubaix winner Andrea Tafi.
Porte's limits are undetermined. Can he keep the pink jersey until the end? This is an option the "Tasmanian devil" doesn't rule out. "People were surprised by my win at the Tour of Romandie in the time trial," he told Cyclingnews. "Hopefully I can surprise them again. People don't really know who I am. I've passed under the radar these past few years.
"I'm gonna try to hang on to the pink jersey. I'm in a pretty good position and I have a good team behind me. I'll take it day-by-day."
To the question "how much of a climber are you?," Porte said, "I didn't lose that much time the other day."
Porte finished 26 seconds behind Vinokourov and Evans on the Terminillo climb at the conclusion of stage eight and the former Giro leaders are now 9:58 and 11:10 behind him respectively.
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