Australia’s Michael Matthews is the Giro d’Italia’s new leader, having taken the maglia rosa from his Orica-GreenEdge teammate Svein Tuft after German sprinter Marcel Kittel won Saturday’s second stage.
“The plan was to win [Friday’s] team time trial, to give Svein the jersey for his birthday, and then for me to get a place in the sprint and take the jersey,” Matthews said. “To wear the pink jersey in my first Giro d’Italia is a dream come true.”
The 23-year-old was no match for Kittel in the sprint finish in a wet Belfast at the end of Saturday’s 219km stage, finishing eighth.
Asked what it would take to beat the German, Matthews replied: “Some hills.”
“I think Kittel is definitely the fastest guy in the bunch here. He showed that today,” he said. “I need to try to be around him in these first stages, and conserve energy for stages five and six, which are my goals for this Giro. I’m focused on them.”
He is focused on staying in pink, too.
“With the gap we have over the other teams we should be able to keep the jersey for maybe a week,” Matthews said.
Kittel confirmed his status as cycling’s in-form sprinter, even if Mark Cavendish and Andre Greipel, his main rivals, are both missing.
It was his first Giro win after his four stage victories in last year’s Tour de France and means that he has now won stages in all three Grand Tours — France, Italy and Spain.
At the end of a stage that took the riders north from Belfast to the Bushmills Distillery, returning by the coast and passing the Giant’s Causeway, it was a relatively straightforward win for Kittel, whose Giant-Shimano team shepherded him over roads made treacherous by rain.
On the run-in to Belfast the peloton swept up a four-man break that had been clear for most of the stage, with Maarten Tjallingii of the Netherlands the last survivor, but when Kittel appeared at the front in the final 500m, having safely negotiated a ninety-degree bend, it was as good as over for the others.
He sprinted in over a length clear of second-placed Nacer Bouhanni of France.
“I know the riders who I have to take care of and keep an eye on,” Kittel said. “The two main guys are the British and the German ones, Cavendish and Greipel, but Bouhanni and [Elia] Viviani are also strong and will definitely challenge us here. It’s a problem if you become arrogant and think you will beat them.”
Yesterday’s third stage to Dublin should also have suited Kittel on his 26th birthday.
Asked for his verdict on the Giro’s visit to Ireland, he said: “The first thing that comes to my mind is a lot of rain and the second thing is the atmosphere.”
“Even with all the rain there were so many people out there today, many in shorts and T-shirts. I don’t know how they do it,” he said.
Dan Martin, the Irishman who crashed and broke his collarbone in Friday’s team time trial, was due to have surgery on the injury in Dublin on Saturday evening and said he expects to be back on his bike in two weeks.