Kittel wins Giro second stageComment on this story
Belfast, United Kingdom – Marcel Kittel of Germany won a wet second stage of the Giro d'Italia in Belfast, finishing over a length clear of France's Nacer Bouhanni in a mass sprint.
But it was the rider who finished eighth, Michael Matthews of Australia, who took over the race leader's pink jersey from his team-mate, Svein Tuft of Canada.
The pair's squad, Orica-GreenEdge, won Friday evening's team time-trial, meaning that all Matthews had to do to claim the jersey was finish ahead of Tuft the next day.
It was an outcome predicted by the team's director, Matt White, at the stage start in the Northern Irish capital on Saturday morning.
“Michael should have the jersey tonight,” said White. “He's our sprinter, he's going well, and that was our plan – to have Svein in pink after the team time-trial, with Michael taking over.”
It meant that the jersey went from one of the oldest riders in the race, 37-year-old Tuft, to one of the youngest. Matthews, known as 'Bling', is 23.
The 219-kilometre stage took the riders north from Belfast through Ballymena and all the way up to the Bushmills whiskey distillery before looping back around the coast, passing the Giant's Causeway, and into Belfast city centre.
There were four early attackers – Jeffry Johan Romero of Colombia, Maarten Tjallingii of Holland, Sander Armee of Belgium, and Andrea Fedi of Italy – and they built a lead of six minutes before the peloton began to chase as they raced back towards Belfast.
Inside the final 12km the gap dropped below a minute as the Italian team Cannondale, working for their sprinter Elia Viviani, moved to the front and upped the pace.
Tjallingii launched a late solo bid for victory as the gap hovered around thirty seconds, but the leaders were on borrowed time.
Coming into Belfast, with the break swept up, the rain had stopped but the roads were wet and potentially treacherous.
However, the ninety-degree bend in the final kilometre was negotiated safely and it was Kittel, the winner of three stages at last year's Tour de France, who emerged at the front for a comfortable win.
The race continued in Northern Ireland having lost the local favourite, Dan Martin, who crashed during Friday's stage.
Martin was diagnosed with a broken collarbone and was set to have an operation in Dublin late on Saturday. He expects to be back on his bike in two weeks and could now target the Tour de France.
“Dan is good at putting things to one side,” said his Garmin-Sharp team director, Charly Wegelius.
“He's obviously disappointed, because we're in Ireland, he had worked very hard for this and he's been going extremely well. But he's capable of picking other objectives and looking forward.” – Sapa-AFP