What a way to start your first Grand Tour
After a relatively uneventful day, the opening stage of the 100th edition of the Giro d’Italia exploded into a huge surprise in its finale.
No-one would have predicted that Bora-Hansgrohe lead-out man Lukas Pöstlberger would be the first rider to wear the coveted maglia rosa of race leader – and on his very first day of his very first Grand Tour. And take the first Giro win for any Austrian rider.
The 25-year-old found himself comfortably ahead of the peloton into the final kilometre after lining himself up for nominated Bora sprinter Sam Bennett. As the bunch navigated its way through the final series of corners and into the final drag to the line, Pöstlberger put his head down and powered into the headwind – taking the victory firmly against the odds.
The smile on team-mate Bennett’s face at the finish showed what it meant for the whole team, not just the individual.
A slow start to the 100th Giro – but that’s okay
The bunch took well over five hours to complete the opening stage of the 2017 Giro from Alghero to Olbia. As the day’s break rode ahead, the peloton looked relatively content to ease themselves into the following three weeks, enjoying the Sardinian sunshine.
As the day progressed, it was obvious that the race was going to miss even the slowest predicted time schedule. It was a stark contrast to the more traditional opening short prologue time trial: a long, leisurely 206km ride rather than a frantic effort against the clock.
It meant we got to enjoy aerial shots of Sardinia rather than an urban prologue backdrop, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
There was disappointment for Steven Kruijswijk
After tumbling out of the Giro d’Italia lead in last year’s race due to a crash, Dutchman Steven Kruijswijk was eyeing this year’s race as his big chance. But there was disappointment on the opening stage, as the LottoNL-Jumbo leader was caught behind an incident outside the three-kilometre zone.
Being outside the protection of final 3km means that any time gaps stick, and Kruijswijk dropped 13 seconds when all of his main rivals managed to stay in touch with the leaders. Geraint Thomas (Team Sky), Mikel Landa (Team Sky), Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrin-Merida), Adam Yates (Orica-Scott), Nairo Quintana (Movistar), Tom Dumoulin (Team Sunweb) and Tejay van Garderen (BMC) all made it.
Kruijswijk must be hoping that he’s got his bad luck out of the way early.
Bardiani team in difficult situation after doping positives
It wasn’t quite the start of the 100th Giro d’Italia that organiser RCS Sport was hoping for. Coinciding with the official team presentation on Thursday evening, news broke that two of Bardiani-CSF’s team – Stefano Pirazzi and Nicola Ruffoni – had tested positive in out-of-competition tests at the end of April and were suspended.
The whole Bardiani-CSF team will now face a ban under UCI anti-doping rules as two of its riders have returned a positive analytical finding within a 12-month period. As the UCI’s disciplinary commission has to decide on the length of ban – anything between 15 and 45 days – it was not immediately put in force, and the team started the race.
This is a no-win situation for Bardiani-CSF, and the Giro too. If the UCI disciplinary committee makes a decision on a ban during the race, the team’s remaining seven riders may well be ejected. If they stay in the race, some would say that they shouldn’t be there with a ban looming.
The team itself has said that it will withdraw if the B samples also return as positive. Then there is the question of negative publicity for the squad’s sponsors, when all of Italy is watching. The ramifications for the team may extend well beyond this year’s Giro.
Mountains and sprints classifications hotly contested
If the opening stage is anything to go by, the minor classifications will be a hard-fought battle. Members of the day’s escape group battled it out over the day’s three fourth-category climbs and intermediate sprints, bagging early points and bonus seconds.
Bora-Hansgrohe’s Cesare Benedetti made the mountains classification his own – a performance which also meant that the German team now leads every single classification going into stage two when Pöstlberger’s stage win is included: overall, points, mountains, youth and team. Not bad for a squad that only went into the race with a hope for a single stage win.
There’s extra incentive for riders to contest Grand Tour minor classifications in 2017, too, as a UCI rule change now sees WorldTour points awarded to riders who claim jerseys.