Italian Salvatore Puccio took possession of the Giro d’Italia pink jersey from overnight leader Mark Cavendish on Sunday as Sky Pro Cycling and race favorite Bradley Wiggins claimed their maiden team time trial win on a Grand Tour on the island of Ischia.
Cavendish had sprinted to victory in the opening stage of the three-week race on Saturday to pull on the race leader’s pink jersey for the third time in his career, but despite their best efforts, Cavendish and his Omega Pharma-Quick-Step team were no match for Sky over the winding 17.4km course on the scenic island which sits off the coast of Naples.
Cavendish, a 23-time stage winner on the Tour de France, won his 11th Giro stage on Saturday and said his team would do their best to protect the race lead when the Giro visited Ischia for the first time in 54 years.
However, Omega Pharma could finish only 17th in the 23-team field in a time of 22 minutes, 53 seconds, 48 seconds behind Sky.
“I’m a little disappointed in myself not to have held on to this beautiful pink jersey, but it was a very technical course,” Cavendish said.
Puccio was Sky’s best-placed rider after the opening stage, handing him the race’s top prize — which team leader Wiggins is hoping to secure at the end of the race on May 26.
Puccio — born and raised in Sicily — admitted that being overall leader had come as something of a surprise.
“Today was an incredible result and it is a huge surprise. I could never have thought this morning that I would be pulling on the pink jersey. It is incredible,” Puccio said. “Once again the team showed how strong we are. Everyone put in a huge effort and it is very satisfying to be part of a big team result like this. For an Italian rider, the pink jersey is one of the best things that can happen to you.”
Sky topped the times in 22 minutes, 5 seconds, nine seconds ahead of Movistar and 14 ahead of the Astana team of overall victory contender Vincenzo Nibali.
Nibali has been touted as the man most likely to stand in the way of Wiggins following his Tour de France triumph last year with victory in stage racing’s second most prestigious race.
Despite losing time to the Briton, the Sicilian was philosophical about his team’s performance on a “hard and fast” course, where he said Astana hit speeds of 70kph on the small downhill sections.
“For me, it was a very good performance,” Nibali said. “We’re not a specialist time trial team, we’re a team composed mainly of climbers.”
Astana were far from the worst team containing overall victory contenders.
The Garmin-Sharp team of defending champion Ryder Hesjedal trailed in seventh place, 25 seconds behind Sky and Wiggins.
Former Tour de France champion Cadel Evans was even further off the pace. The Australian was the fourth of the five BMC riders who crossed the finish line in 12th, 37 seconds behind Sky.
BMC assistant director Max Sciandri said the team had been let down on the hillier sections.
“I think if you look at the winning team, it is more of an imprint of a climber team. We had some really good guys who can go on the flats like a regular time trial, but we struggled a little bit with some guys on the climbs. But I don’t think we could have given anything more,” Sciandri said.
Evans added: “Thirty-seven seconds is a little bit below what I had hoped or expected, but that’s the way it is. The guys put in everything. Someone like Klaas Lodewyck — he really gave it absolutely everything he had today, so I’m certainly not going to ask anything more of him.”