There was no great surprise when Germany’s Marcel Kittel won Stage 2 of the Giro d’Italia when he coasted home on the final sprint in front of a raucous Belfast City Hall.
Kittel beat his main rival for the Maglia Rossa Nacer Bouhanni of the FDJ.fr team by a couple of metres.
The big muscular Giant-Shimano team leader was never going to be beaten to the line once he had negotiated the difficult final left-hand turn into Wellington Place.
He led out the procession for the final 400 metres to wear the red jersey into tomorrow’s stage from Armagh to Dublin where again it will be a sprinter’s stage in Dublin and Kittel will want to further celebrate his 26th birthday on Upper Merrion Street.
And just as they did in last year’s centenary Tour de France, Orega Greenedge switched the leader’s jersey with the same two riders.
This time the Maglia Rosa was passed on from opening Team Time Trial stage winner Svein Tuft to young Australian sprinter Michael Matthews who finished on the same time as Kittel in eighth place after the race to the line. After the race Kittel, praised Northern Ireland’s hosting of the event but was not slow to note the one constant in Ireland – the weather.
“The first thing that springs to mind was the rain, naturally,” said Kittel about his time in Northern Ireland.
“But looking at it, there was amazing support and a superb atmosphere. All along the route, they were even out in shorts and t-shirts I do not know how they did it. It was spectacular, particular as I don’t mind racing in the wet.”
At least there was some consolation for Belkin’s Dutch star Maarten Tjallingi who was in the breakaway quartet for over 210 km before being caught 2 km from the finish.
Tjallingi at least wears the Maglia Azzurri (blue jersey) for King of the Mountains after he summited the two category four climbs ahead of the rest of his breakaway quartet.
The Belkin rider was first out of the traps when he sprinted away from the peleton after just 12 kms and he was quicky followed by Belgium’s Sander Armee (Lotto Belisol), Italian Andrea Fedi (Neri Sottoli) and Colombia’s Jeffry Romero Corridor after just 12 of the fairly flat 134 mile stage.
It was a difficult days riding for the peleton who had to contend with swirling wind and rain, surface water and a plethora of mechanical problems. Orega Greenedge did most of the work in controlling the race at the front with Movistar and Cannondale also getting in on the party at the front.
The breakaway had pushed out over a five-minute lead, but slowly and surely a nervous peleton were pulling them back as the race snaked it’s way back down from the north coast which still shone in all its splendid glory despite the inclement weather.
Tjallingi made a solo break 10 km from the end as the other breakaway riders were reeled in, but it was unfortunately for the Dutch man, it was not to be a glory run as the sprint trains took over with the 25-year-old Armstadt-born Kittel racing through with hands aloft in celebration to grab his seventh Grand Tour stage win.
Most of the main protagonists in the general classification did what they wanted today and that was not to lose ground.
Rigoberto Uran and veteran Alessandro Petacchi were only eight seconds behind while Cadel Evans was a further two seconds adrift.
Ireland’s remaining two contestants are still well up in the GC with Nicolas Roche 28 seconds behind the Maglia Rosa after finishing 28th in the sprint finish, three seconds behind Kittel and Philip Deignan 10 seconds further back.
Hot favourite Nairo Quintano is 58 seconds behind, but with the all the mountain stages to come, there is no panic just yet for the little Colombian.
However, Joaquim Rodriguez, who was second in the Giro last year, is still 1 min 38 seconds down and left with an awful lot of work to do to catch up in the remaining stages.
TOP TEN STAGE 2
1 Marcel Kittel (Ger) Team Giant-Shimano; 2 Nacer Bouhanni (Fra) FDJ.fr; 3 Giacomo Nizzolo (Ita) Trek Factory Racing; 4 Elia Viviani (Ita) Cannondale; 5 Roberto Ferrari (Ita) Lampre-Merida; 6 Manuel Belletti (Ita) Androni Giocattoli; 7 Ben Swift (GBr) Team Sky; 8 Michael Matthews (Aus) Orica Greenedge; 9 Davide Appollonio (Ita) AG2R La Mondiale; 10 Tyler Farrar (USA) Garmin Sharp
23 Nicolas Roche Tinkoff-Saxo; 123 Philip Deignan SKY