Olbia (Italy) (AFP) – Austria’s Lukas Postlberger upset the sprinters on the opening stage of the 100th Giro d’Italia Friday with a sensational finish that secured an unlikely win and the race leader’s pink jersey.
A host of top sprinters looked to have set up a bunch sprint for the end of the 206 km ride from Alghero to Olbia on the northern coast of Sardinia after catching a five-man breakaway in the closing kilometres.
But after a sharp right-hand bend caused chaos in the final kilometres, 25-year-old Postlberger — competing in his first Grand Tour — surged clear.
The Bora team rider held off a desperate chasing pack to claim a famous victory, and the first pink jersey of an edition that is expected to come down to a duel between 2016 champion Vincenzo Nibali and 2014 winner Nairo Quintana.
“It’s the biggest win of my career,” said Postlberger, whose previous career highlight was a stage win on the Tour of Austria.
Australia’s Caleb Ewan was second, the Orica rider finishing a fraction ahead of German sprint star Andre Greipel.
“It was a really strong move by (Postlberger),” Ewan said. “It was a hectic finish and sometimes a moment’s hesitation can lose the race.
“There’s not many opportunities to take the pink jersey so obviously it’s bittersweet to finish second but there are more days to come and you have to congratulate the move.”
The fast men of the peloton will be furious at letting such a prestigious victory — and the chance to wear the ‘maglia rosa’ over the coming days — slip from their fingers.
But Postlberger didn’t care: “Every sprinter goes for the victory, but I’m not sorry to be honest. This is cycling.”
He hit the front with two kilometres to go looking to play a support role for Irish sprinter Sam Bennett.
But finding himself alone and with a chance to go for glory, he tuned into the instructions coming through the earpiece of his team radio and kept pounding away.
The sprinters’ teams chased furiously, but with 25 metres to go Postlberger sat up, stretched his arms and soaked up the applause from thousands of roadside fans.
- ‘unbelievable’ –
“I heard over the (team) radio, c’mon Posty go, try!’ and I put all I had in. It worked out, victory for the team, first big victory for me – maglia rosa (pink jersey),” he added.
“I think I’ll need many weeks to realise this victory. It’s unbelievable, really.”
The 100th edition began in summer-like conditions, but had been overshadowed Thursday when Stefano Pirazzi and Nicola Ruffoni of the Bardiani team were sent home due to suspected doping.
Bardiani — one of four ‘wildcards’ invited to the race — were notified of the results by the International Cycling Union (UCI) shortly before a glitzy presentation in front of thousands of enthusiastic fans.
If their “B” samples are also positive, and in accordance with UCI rules, the entire team could be suspended for 15-45 days, ending their race before the Milan finish line on May 28.
“It’s a possibility,” the Bardiani team’s sporting director Stefano Zanatta told AFP prior to Friday’s opener.
Saturday’s second stage is a 221 km ride from Olbia to Tortoli and is one of three on the island, before the race moves to Sicily for two stages following Monday’s rest day.
<figure><figcaption>Austria's Lukas Postlberger of team Bora celebrates the Pink Jersey on the podium after winning the first stage of the 100th Giro d'Italia, Tour of Italy, from Alghero to Olbia on May 5, 2017 in Sardinia <span>Copyright AFP Luk BENIES</span> </figcaption></figure>