David Millar stands a couple of seconds away from becoming the first British rider to have led all three of the grand tours.
The Garmin-Transitions rider could add the maglia rosa to his Tour de France yellow jersey, won in 2000, and the Vuelta a Espana’s gold jersey he wore in 2001.
The Giro d’Italia is delicately poised after three hectic days of racing in Holland. Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana) is in pink, but he is tied on time with Richie Porte (Saxo Bank). Millar is a single second back.
However, the American-backed squad will have to ride Wednesday’s 32.5-kilometre team time trial without one of their driving forces after Christian Vande Velde crashed out with a broken collarbone on Monday.
BACK ON HOME SOIL
After the long transfer from Belgium to Italy on Monday night, the Giro d’Italia’s riders were required to eat together when they arrived at 11.30pm. The race organisers had invited a number of special guests to come and get a glimpse of the tired riders, who had spent five hours on the bike and at least the same again travelling. The meal resembled a pre-sportive pasta party and it was well after midnight before many of the riders got to their hotels.
But Tuesday provided a chance to sleep in and then get out to fine-tune their formation riding ahead of the team time trial from Savigliano to Cuneo. The course is not technical – there are very few turns until the very end – but it is a test of pacing strategy and judgement. The route rises steadily all the way, gaining around 250 metres. It’s not the sort of climb that will be immediately obvious but it will have a steady cumulative effect.
So, who’s going to win? With Vinokourov of Astana and Porte of Saxo Bank tied on time overall and Millar just a second back, there is a lot riding on the team time trial. Then you have Vincenzo Nibali of Liquigas only five seconds behind and three HTC-Columbia riders within ten seconds.
OVERALL GC AFTER STAGE 3
1. Alexandre Vinokourov (Kaz) Astana
2. Richie Porte (Aus) Saxo Bank same time
3. David Millar (GB) Garmin-Transitions at 1sec
4. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas at 5sec
5. Marcel Sieberg (Ger) HTC-Columbia at 7sec
6. Matthew Goss (Aus) HTC-Columbia at 10sec
Until Vande Velde’s crash on Sunday, which forced him to pull out of the Giro with a broken collarbone, Garmin-Transitions were the obvious favourites, with Team Sky also on the front row of the grid but perhaps just behind them.
But riding a man short, with eight, makes it a completely different proposition for Garmin and all their plans will have to be hastily redrawn. There’s still a lot of power in the line-up with Millar, Svein Tuft, Cameron Meyer and Jack Bobridge all time trial specialists. However, the fact Millar is so close to the lead perhaps alters their strategy too. Remember in 2008 when Millar did a huge turn towards the end to propel Vande Velde into the pink jersey before sitting up himself? He won’t be able to do that, as he will want to finish with the team.
So, Team Sky must now have the edge. The setback of a string of crashes in the Netherlands will be forgotten and they’ll get into the groove as they did in practice last week. They know there will be no pink jersey to defend in the coming days, so they can concentrate on getting from A to B as quickly as possible.
What of Columbia-HTC, last year’s team time trial winners? The line-up is very different to that which triumphed near Venice last year. Morris Possoni and Michael Barry will be in Team Sky’s line-up, Thomas Lökvist and Edvald Boasson Hagen are also with Sky but aren’t riding the Giro. That leaves Marco Pinotti as the sole rider who rode last year’s Giro for them. There’s a lot of speed in the HTC team – Frantisek Rabon is a specialist and Marcel Sieberg is a powerhouse – but will they bring it all together? They will surely be a factor but it would be a surprise if they were to win.
Saxo Bank have perhaps the most pressure. The pink jersey is so close, Porte can almost touch it. But they are in a different position to Vinokourov and Astana, who are playing a longer game. If Astana lose the jersey in Cuneo it will not be a disaster because there are still more than two weeks to get it back. But if Saxo Bank fail to get it now, they may not get another chance in this race.
Likewise for Millar. The Garmin rider could become the first British rider to wear the leader’s jersey in all three grand tours – having worn the maillot jaune at the Tour de France and the gold jersey at the Vuelta a Espana. All he needs is for Garmin to finish a couple of seconds ahead of Astana and Saxo Bank.
Of the overall contenders, you’d expect Vinokourov to be in an even stronger position by the end of the stage, but Liquigas will seek to keep Nibali and Ivan Basso well to the fore.
But what will BMC Racing and Cadel Evans manage? Think back to last year’s Tour, when Evans and Silence-Lotto came unravelled in the Montpellier team time trial and lost 2-35 to Astana. This is not as technical a course but one which will demand a consistent high effort. Arguably BMC Racing are not as strong as Silence-Lotto were. And they already down to eight riders, having lost Martin Kohler on Sunday. But tellingly, it was on Monday when the weaknesses were exposed. They were unable to stay at the front in the crucial final phase of the race. Evans may have his work cut out to avoid slipping further behind Vinokourov.
There’s a lot at stake and the race is finely poised. Just a handful of seconds either way could decide the stage and the next holder of the pink jersey. So, who’s going to win?
GIRO TEAM TIME TRIAL – LAST YEAR’S TOP THREE
Lido di Venezia, 20.5km
2 Garmin-Slipstream at 6sec
3 Astana at 13sec
2008 TOP THREE
2 CSC-Saxo Bank at 6sec
3 Columbia at 7sec
Cycling Weekly’s 2010 Giro d’Italia coverage in association with Zipvit