Team Sky star Chris Froome‘s attempt to win a third straight grand tour got off to a nightmare start at the Giro d’Italia on Friday.
The four-time Tour de France champion’s bad day at the office began when he crashed heavily on his right side during a reconnaissance ride of the 9.7-kilometre course, a twisting and undulating route around Jerusalem’s city centre.
His team said it was just a case of cuts and bruises but that looked like an understatement four hours later when he went through the intermediate split way down on the early leader Rohan Dennis.
That impression was rammed home less than four minutes later when the last man on the course, defending champion Tom Dumoulin, went through the finish line in a blistering time of 12 minutes two seconds – two seconds quicker than Dennis and a massive 37 seconds better than Froome, whose time was good enough only for 21st on the day.
Australia’s Dennis, a specialist over short distances, had sat in the so-called hot seat as the man to beat for over two hours but none was hotter than Dutchman Dumoulin.
The world time-trial champion now knows he should be able to put serious amounts of time into all his rivals for the general classification in the Giro’s second time-trial, a longer, flatter effort at the start of the third week on May 22.
Froome, however, will be desperate to wrest back control of this race by then and he will get chances to do so, with five of the Giro’s eight mountain-top finishes coming before that 16th stage, but he will need to show much better form than he displayed here.
The fact he lost nearly all of his deficit to Dumoulin in the more technical first half of the course suggests he was struggling to accelerate out of corners and he also appeared to be cornering very conservatively – both understandable results of a painful tumble.
Losing to Dumoulin and Dennis on this course is no major embarrassment but the fact he is also behind Italy’s Domenico Pozzovivo and Frenchman Thibaut Pinot, two challengers for victory in Rome in three weeks’ time and neither known for their time-trialling, will smart.
And the fact that a trio of climbers – New Zealand’s George Bennett, Italian Fabio Aru and Colombian Miguel Angel Lopez – who also crashed whilst checking the course, are only just behind would not have been part of the plan.
But if Froome’s flop was a blow for British hopes, there was plenty to cheer elsewhere.
Alex Dowsett beat Sir Bradley Wiggins in a Giro time-trial in 2013 so his fifth-place finish in Jerusalem is perhaps not a huge surprise, although it is a timely return to form for the Essex-born rider who now races for Team Katusha.
Even more impressive, though, was the storming ride by Bury’s Simon Yates, just four seconds behind Dowsett and 20 seconds off Dumoulin.
The Mitchelton-Scott man has already won two mountain stages this season and had come into this race telling people he was at a disadvantage in the time-trials. If he was bluffing, he will not get away with it again.
The third fastest man on a warm and sticky day was Belgium’s Victor Campenaerts, only a fraction of a second slower than Dennis, with Portugal’s Jose Goncalves fourth, 12 seconds back.
UAE Team Emirates’ Valerio Conti achieved his best result of the season after finishing 12th on the first stage of the Giro d’Italia on Friday.
The Rome native completed the 9.7km time trial in 12:31 – 29 seconds behind defending champion and stage winner Tom Dumoulin.
The 25-year-old said: “I liked the hilly course, I put the hammer down on the hills and I took the proper risks, however avoiding to risk too much.
“I happy with my performance, it’s a pity I missed the white jersey by a few seconds but there is loads of racing left to get the best out of myself.”
Meanwhile, team captain Fabio Aru – who was runner up in the 2015 edition – finishes 47th with a time of 12:52 and will be eyeing the mountain stages in the latter part of the tour to really make his mark.
The Sardinian native, who finished sixth at the Tour of the Alps two weeks ago, is relishing the prospect of challenging Dumoulin and Chris Froome when the race returns to Italy on Tuesday.
The 27-year-old said: “Dumoulin exploited one of the stages which suits him most, I did not risk too much because this morning, during the recon, I noticed that the course was complicated.
“I’m happy the Giro has started, there are 20 days ahead of us for trying to achieve something good. I’m looking forward to it all.”
“Conti’s performance today was impressive and he’ll be a precious help for me during the Giro”.
Best for UAE Team Emirates were: Diego Ulissi (23rd), Marco Marcato (28th), Jan Polanc (59th), Vegard Laengen (86th) and Darwin Atapuma (150th).
Saturday’s second stage will be a 167 km pan-flat course running from Haifa to Tel Aviv.
Elia Viviani is targeting the points classification’s cyclamen jersey as the 101st Giro d’Italia gets under way on Friday, but the Italian icon isn’t hiding the fact that the event’s famous pink jersey is his ultimate goal.
The first of the year’s three Grand Tour races began on Friday, with a short but tricky individual time trial in Jerusalem, the first time one of the three major races in cycling – the others being the Tour de France and Vuelta a Espana – began outside Europe.
Viviani, 29, will be one of the riders to watch during the next three weeks, as the Italian returns to his beloved home race for the first time since 2016.
The Quick-Step Floors rider has enjoyed a fine start to the 2018 season, with six victories to his name – including winning the Driedaagse Brugge – De Panne title in early March as well as the Dubai Tour title in February.
He won the points classification at both the Dubai and at the Abu Dhabi Tours, and is targeting the cyclamen jersey – formerly the red jersey but changed back to cyclamen, named after the flower, for the 2017 edition.
“I have a good condition and I’m here to finish the Giro, but I know it won’t be easy, because it’s such a hard race,” said the Verona native.
“On the other hand, having a flat stage in Rome on the final day is a special motivation, so I’m going to do all that I can to get there.
“I’m happy that the team presented me with this opportunity and that I have such a strong squad around me. I want to repay their confidence and will give everything that I have for this.”
A stage winner in Genoa, back in 2016, Viviani has nevertheless not had the best of times at his home race, recording a best finish of 119th on his debut in 2013, while he failed to finish last time he appeared two years ago.
But he was hoping to start the opening weekend on the front foot ahead of the race heading to the homeland on Tuesday.
“My dream is to win the cyclamen jersey and a couple of stages, but we need to take it step by step,” added Viviani.
“Let’s see first how the first two stages, in Tel Aviv and Eilat will unfold, and afterwards we can start thinking of this.”
Being a sprint specialist could see Viviani getting his hands on the Giro’s famous Maglia Rosa jersey early on and even though the race gets more mountainous as it goes on, winning the overall title remains a dream.
“I won’t hide the fact that I think of it (winning), but I’m also aware that if I go full gas for the bonus seconds at the intermediate sprint, then I can lose some energy for the final sprint,” he said.
“Friday’s individual time trial will give us more answers. It’s a bit too long for my taste and it will be a hot day, but I’ll try to do my best.”
Quick-Step Floors team for the Giro d’Italia:
Eros Capecchi, Fabio Sabatini, Elia Viviani (all Italy); Remi Cavagna, Florian Senechal (France); Michael Morkov (Denmark); Maximilian Schachmann (Germany); Zdenek Stybar (Czech Republic).