There was celebration, drama and disappointment on Friday as birthday boy Svein Tuft donned the Maglia Rosa after his smooth-riding Orica GreenEdge team took the Team Time Trial honours in the opening stage of the 97th Giro d’Italia.
But there was disaster for Irish rider Dan Martin whose Giro d’Italia lasted all of 20 minutes when he was taken to hospital with a suspected broken right collar bone after a number of his Garmin Sharp team crashed on the return trip down the lower Newtownards Road.
There was better news for Martin’s cousin Nicolas Roche, however, after his Tinkoff-Saxo outfit came home 23 seconds behind in fourth place but gained a number of important seconds on some of his general classification rivals.
However, it was glory for Canadian Tuft who celebrated his 37th birthday on Friday and was given the honour of leading his Australian team across the line at Belfast’s magnificent City Hall.
Second off the ramp they posted an early time of 24 mins 42 secs and in the end pipping Omega Pharma-Quick into second spot with BMC third, a further two seconds in arrears.
It was at times a technically demanding route around east and south Belfast, part long, straight roads suited to high speeds as well as some difficult corners to contend with particularly as the rain started to fall just after the countdown tot he start.
But Orica GreenEdge were in a class of their own and continued their excellent early-season form. Tuft from Langley in British Colombia was in the team that won the opening stage of the centenary Tour de France last year, when he, ironically finished as the Laterne Rouge (final-paced rider).
The veteran rider was obviously delighted with his, and the team’s opening stage success.
“What an amazing day,” he said after collecting his breath. “I never imagined something like this would happen. I’m so proud of the team and can’t thank them enough.
“They gave me the gift, it was really a birthday. This team is really selfless that way. I feel really fortunate to be handed that present on my birthday.”
However, it was a different story as gasps and then disappointment after the Garmin-Sharp train spilled three riders when a wheel hit a graten outside St Matthews Church.
Martin landed heavily on his right side and was unable to remount and although his team were stunned, they managed to gather the necessary five riders to finish the stage over 3 minutes behind the eventual winners.
Roche, however, will be very happy to have got the edge over some of his rivals for the overall winner Maglia Rosa.
While one of the favourites Rigoberto Uran, who was second in last year’s Giro is looking good after his OMQ team came home five seconds behind and Cadel Evans a further two seconds adrift, other big names have some work to do.
Hot favourite Nairo Quintana’s Movistar team was 55 seconds down, giving Roche a 32-second advantage, while Michele Scarponi’s Astana outfit was 38 seconds in arrears.
But the biggest loser on the day was Joaquim Rodriguez who has one minute and 25 seconds to make up on Uran after his Katusha team came home in a disappointing 19th place out of the 22 starters.
The Orica Greenedge team will now attempt to defend the pink jersey in Stage 2 which sees the peleton head up the north coast following a neutral zone from the Titanic slipways to the Antrim zone when the start flag will drop.
However, with the only hills in the sight being at the Carrick-a-rede ascent on the Cushendall Road and the rise at Knocknaguillagh, it will be the sprinters like Marcel Kittel, Tyler Farrar, and Nacer Bouhanni who will be looking to grab the first individual stage win.