Blazin' Saddles

The Giro d’Italia in Ireland: Key lessons learned

Blazin' Saddles

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An early rest day has forced our man Blazin' Saddles to take premature stock at a dramatic opening few days in the Giro d'Italia as the riders fly to south Italy in pursuit of some sunshine.

What did we learn from the Giro's eleventh excursion on foreign soil for a grande partenza?

It rains a lot in Ireland: How else do you think that Ireland earned its nickname, the Emerald Isle? To get countryside that green and lush it takes a fair bit of watering - and the weather gods were at it throughout the opening three-day gambit of the race.

The showers were so heavy during the team time trial that those teams which started before and after the deluge set the best times - while those caught in the eye of the storm were punished accordingly.

Wet, winding, narrow roads were to blame for the numerous spills during stages two and three - although, thankfully, we witnessed nothing quite as dramatic as that opening day Garmin-Sharp pile-up (more on that in a Poulidorian second).

The Irish love a good party: If it rained pretty much non-stop then it did at least give the people of Northern Ireland and Ireland - already universally decked out in pink clobber - the chance to brandish the seemingly ubiquitous pink umbrellas.

Pink was pretty much everywhere, sported pretty much by everyone and everything - living or otherwise. We had sheep, donkeys, dogs and horses, not to mention electricity pylons, cars, tractors and the mile-long driveway up to the parliament buildings at Stormont (although, to be fair, that may have just been the same kind of pinkish-red tarmac that covers The Mall in London).

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There was even some old Canadian guy called something like Sven or Swain or something, fully decked out in pink and riding a pink bike. It was all quite surreal.

Dan Martin is the unluckiest man in cycling right now: Imagine if Tom Daley slipped on the ladder and broke hit foot before his opening dive of London 2012 - that's must be how Martin is feeling right now. In fact, worse - for his opening day crash came less than two weeks after he fell on the last bend while en course for a second successive Liege-Bastogne-Liege title.

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"So sad. Nothing to be done. Professional bike racing is cruel." That was Garmin manager Jonathan Vaughers' reaction to the freak fall suffered by Martin, who appeared to skid on a manhole cover before taking out three team-mates. Clasping his shoulder and staying rooted to the tarmac for quite some time, Martin was eventually taken to hospital where it was confirmed that he'd fractured his right collarbone.

To train so hard for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of the Giro visiting your home country - and then to be forced out of the race before even crossing the border into Ireland - must have been completely gut-wrenching for Martin. How he'll come back from this is hard to fathom - one would hope by nicking a stage or two on the Tour.

Orica-GreenEdge are keeping to the script: It kind of gave the game away when the Australian team bolstered their squad with three past and current Australian national time trial champions along with an eight-time Canadian national time trial champion.

And surprise, surprise - no one could stop Orica-GreenEdge winning the opening TTT to give Svein Tuft the perfect 37th birthday present in the form of the maglia rosa. Judging by Tuft's custom-painted pink Scott Foil steed the next day, the team mechanics were in on the scenario too.

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Michael Matthews then kept to the script by taking over the pink jersey after the first road stage - although not thanks to the expected time bonus at the finish, but rather due to a split in the peloton that saw all riders under 20th place come home three seconds down on the winner, Marcel Kittel.

With Italian veteran Alessandro Petacchi the only rider threatening Matthews' pink jersey on Sunday, the 23-year-old did not need to try and do what everyone else was failing to do - that's to say, beat Kittel in a sprint - and instead shadowed Petacchi across the line to ensure he would top the standings as the race ventured back to Italy.

So far, so good for GreenEdge, who should protect the jersey for at least three days barring any hiccup.

Marcel Kittel is the fastest man on two wheels: Of course, the young German can only beat those behind or in front of him - but so far that's what he's doing. On Saturday, Kittel never looked in trouble as he powered clear in Belfast, while on Sunday he had to do it the hard way, losing his positioning in the final chicane before coming from nowhere to pip both Ben Swift and Elia Viviani in Dublin.

Viviani later said that he thought he was in a two-man dash for the line with Swift before he saw an "intimidating" Kittel return in the last 100m and "come past at twice my speed". Devil's advocate will say that this Giro is not exactly pitting Kittel up the best in the business, what with the likes of Mark Cavendish, Andre Greipel and John Degenkolb battling it out in photo finishes in sunny California.

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But Kittel now has stage wins in all three Grand Tours and when he does retire from this race (as expected) at the end of the second week (with no doubt at least another two wins to his name) then the 26-year-old (who, like Tuft, won on his birthday in Ireland) will have ample enough time to recover in time to resume his battle with Cav et al in the Tour de France.

Grand Tours aren't won in the opening days - but can be lost: Just ask Ryder Hesjedal, whose Garmin team limped home following the Martin dramatics to set the worst time in the TTT well over three minutes in arrears. The (some would say, shock) 2012 Giro champion was talking up his chances of a second title before the race started - something which looks scuppered even before the Giro touches down in Italy.

Were it someone like Nairo Quintana or Joaquim Rodriguez who had shipped so much time - and not a conservative battler like Hesjedal - then it would be easier not to write them off so precipitously. But as it is - and with his team's morale dented so considerably - it will take a miracle for the Canadian to even finish in the top 10 in Trieste, let alone fight for the podium.

As for Quintana and Rodriguez - both of the pre-race favourites conceded hefty chunks of time to both Rigoberto Uran (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) and Cadel Evans (BMC). But provided they can put a cap on these losses then they will still be in the reckoning once the race hits the Alps for the gruelling final nine days of this race.

The Giro resumes on Tuesday with a 112km flat ride from Giovinazzo to Bari in southern Italy.

Follow Blazin' Saddles on Twitter @saddleblaze

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