Svein Tuft (Orica-GreenEDGE) has spoken of the gift handed to him by his team-mates, who nominated him to cross the line first in Belfast at the end of the opening stage team time trial of the 2014 Giro d’Italia.
The Canadian began his working day with low-key celebrations for his 37th birthday and ended it by pulling on the leader’s jersey at one of the biggest races in cycling. He told reporters he had never expected to wear the famed maglia rosa.
Tuft led him the Australian team’s nine-man squad to a time of 24.42 at the end of a 21.7km parcours made treacherous by heavy showers.
“For a guy like me, it’s a once in a lifetime experience, and I’m really thankful to my team for that gift. It’s a really special thing,” he said.
For a guy like me, to wear the maglia rosa is a once in a lifetime experience, and I’m really thankful to my team for that gift. It’s a really special thing – Svein Tuft
“It hasn’t really sunk in yet. I never expected something like this in my cycling career. I have some good moments and this is something I never imagined.
“It’s an amazing team. Every one of those guys is a brother. I feel really lucky. I can’t imagine too many other teams have that cohesiveness and that camaraderie that we have. It’s a really special team.”
Thousands of spectators lined the course despite the foul weather, cheering each of the riders whether they were riding with team-mates or had been dropped. The people of Belfast had given every indication that they would embrace the Giro at the team presentation yesterday evening, when thousands filled the grounds of Belfast City Hall, and on the day of the race they returned in still greater numbers.
Tuft described the support as “truly impressive” and admitted he hadn’t expected to see crowds on the scale of those that had lined the route. “The entire course was lined, four or five deep with people wearing pink and screaming. I never thought that people would be into it that much, but I’m really impressed.” He said their support had been “inspirational”, especially when the road went upwards. He said energy from the supporters had pushed his performance to another level.
The narrow streets became rain slicked and treacherous just minutes into his ride. Orica-GreenEDGE were the second team off the start ramp in an allocation decided by the UCI, and had briefly enjoyed the advantage of dry roads. Despite the heavy rain, Tuft identified blustering winds as the greatest challenge.
“It made for quite a difficult time,” he said. “As a nine-man group on narrow roads, with corners and what-not, it makes for quite a dangerous parcours, because you can never be overlapping wheels out there. Anyone who was on a really good time today had a bit of luck, but also a team like ours, we really drill that kind of stuff constantly.”
Tuft expressed sympathy for Ireland’s Daniel Martin (Garmin-Sharp) who crashed heavily and has been forced by his injuries to abandon the race. He described Martin “as a good bloke” with whom he had ridden at the American team for two years. “I just saw some footage. It looked pretty rough. Dan’s a great kid,” he said. “I feel bad that that happened in his homeland and in a race that he can really do something at. I hope he’s ok.”
Today’s victory is the fifteenth of the season for Orica-GreenEDGE, who have enjoyed an astonishing breadth of victories, including winning a second Monument Classic with team leader, Simon Gerrans, at Liege-Bastogne-Liege, and the Tour of Turkey with British neo-pro, Adam Yates.
Tuft said the team’s strategy would be to protect “super fast man” Michael Matthews in the coming days “and hopefully we can continue that success streak we’ve been having for the last couple of weeks.”
Tomorrow’s 219km stage, which starts and finishes in Belfast, is likely to be another wind-blown affair, and will take in a visually stunning, if exposed section of the Northern Irish coast. Check back tomorrow for a full report, photo gallery, and post-stage analysis.