The Giro d’Italia started in Ireland this year, the first time this cycling Grand Tour left the Continent, and organizers might be weighing amazingly enthusiastic crowds agaisnt the miserable weather before leaving home again.
The Stage One team time trial was interrupted by a downpour which slowed some teams and caused some crashed (Garmin Sharp lost two riders to broken collarbones in a 22-km stage.)
Weather was terrible again for Stage Two of the 2014 Giro d’Italia, chilly and rainy—not what riders would want on a 219-km day. The route included a pair of Cat Four climbs, the last on 14 km from the finish—far enough away not to upset the expected sprint finish, just enough to make the cold, stiff riders that much more unhappy.
The rain did let up with about 35 km left in the stage—which only meant that the riders’ rain-soaked gear didn’t get more wet; it didn’t get less cold.
A breakaway of four riders— Maarten Tjallingii (Belkin,) Sander Armee (Lotto Belisol,) Andrea Fedi (Neri Sottoli,)and Jeffry Johan Romero Corredor (Colombia)—formed theree kilometers into the stage. Maaren Tjallingii tired to time-trial away eight km from the finish, but was caught with 3.5 left, setting up the fight among the sprinters’ teams.
The stage was always going to end in a sprint. The only question was which of the sprinters’ teams would have control of the peloton in the last half-kilometer, because a left-hand corner 300 meters from the line provided a choke-point which would eliminate anyone outside of the first several around the bend.
Orica-GreenEdge was first around the bend, with one rider shepherding Michael Matthews, who didn’t necessarily want to contest the sprint, but needed to finish up front to keep the race leader’s pink jersey, currently worn by teammate Svein Tuft, within the team. Behind him came FDJ’s Nacer Bouhanni, Trek’s Giacomo Nizzolo, Cannondale’s Elia Viviani, and Giant-Shimano’s Marcel Kittel in tow.
Bouhani started his sprint as soon as he rounded the corner, at 300 meters out a rather long haul. Kittle held back for another hundred meters and then exploded past the slowing Bouhani to take the stage win. Nixxollo streaked down the left side to take third, while Viviani got boxed in behind Bouhani and had to settle for fourth.
Michael Matthews finished eighth and took over the pink jersey for Orica-GreenEdge, and might well hold it through Stage Five, the first stage with any real climbing.
For Marcel Kittel, the win granted him entry into an elite group: he is now one of only 84 riders to have won a stage in each of the three Grands Tours. He also won the points’ leader’s red jersey, which meant he had to make two trips to the podium, when all he wanted to do was get back to the team trailer and warm up.
“It was very cold it’s true,” Kittel told BEin Sports. “The final was pretty hectic because a lot of teams tried to be in front. We tried to do a good leadout but honestly we had some difficulties.
“Anyway, we were in front before the final corner and that’s what it was all about. After that I could just start my sprint. I am feeling really good I am very motivated for this Giro, and I’m really super happy that we could get that win today.”
As for winning a stage in each Grand Tour he remarked, “That was one of the big goals for this Giro as well—to be able to not only win a stage but also to get that sort of personal record. I am very proud of that. From now on I think we can be very relaxed.”
The 2014 Giro d’Italia continues with one more stage in Ireland Sunday before a travel day Monday, then resumes in Italy on Tuesday with Stage Four.