Birthday boy Svein Tuft of Orica-GreenEdge is the first leader of the 2014 Giro d'Italia as he led the Australian WorldTour team across the line to win the opening team time trial in Belfast. There was heartbreak, however, for Irish rider Dan Martin of Garmin-Sharp, out of the race with a broken collarbone.
The early crash that put an end to Martin's hopes of becoming the second Grand Tour winner from Ireland - his uncle, Stephen Roche, won both the Tour de France and the Giro d'Italia in 1987, involved three other of his Garmin-Sharp team mates. Those were Koldo Fernandez, who also broke his collarbone, Andre Cardoso and Nathan Haas.
Omega Pharma-Quick Step posted the second fastest time on the 21.7km course from the Titanic Quarter to Donegall Square North, 5 seconds down on Orica-GreenEdge and giving an early advantage in the overall standings to last year's runner-up, Rigoberto Uran.
BMC Racing finished third, two seconds further back, with Cadel Evans - a past winner of the points jersey at the Giro - looking to add the Giro's pink jersey to the yellow one he clinched in the 2011 Tour de France.
Afterwards, Tuft, who turns 37 today, said that getting into the maglia jersey was "a pretty crazy way to spend your birthday," and said that his team mates had made him "the gift" of crossing the line first as a birthday present.
"We came into this stage with huge expectations," he went on. "Our line-up is designed around the team time trial with [Luke] Durbridge, [Michael] Hepburn, [Brett] Lancaster, [Cameron] Meyer, and so on. Our director sportif Matt White said that, if we’re on a good one, Svein goes across the line first. It’s a dream come true for a guy like me, a once in a lifetime experience, and I’m thankful to the team.”
Regarding the weather, he said: “The wind was never coming from one area. It was always blustering, so it made for a difficult time for a 9-man group on narrow roads. You could never be overlapping wheels. As we saw with Garmin, one little mistake and you really pay. We are well drilled for this kind of stage, but anyone who was on a good time today also had some luck.”
Tuft also spoke of the huge crowds that greeted the riders throughout the course: “It was truly impressive. I never expected to see that kind of crowd, 4 or 5 deep along the entire course, screaming and shouting. I’m never thought people would be so into it.
"Anytime you have crowds on a climb and you can feel that kind of energy, it’s really special. It pushes you to the next level. There are some difficult stages coming with the wind and the exposure on the coast. We have a super-fast man in Michael Matthews, so our objective is to look after him and continue the success of the past weeks.”
Garmin-Sharp sport director Charly Wegelius said: "Today was a tough day and means a change in strategy for the team. We came in with two leaders, Dan and Ryder, and a strong team built to support them and give us options through out the race.
"We still have a strong team and we have Ryder, who’s already won here. It’s heartbreak for Dan in particular, we all know how much this meant to him, but that gives us motivation. We’ll keep fighting forward.
"These guys are not just teammates, they are good friends and we’ll all use this as motivation for the next three weeks to shake up the race and create opportunities for ourselves.
"For the team to wait for Dan, for the whole team and the injured who were able to do so - to pick themselves up and press on - shows true courage and character and that’s what we will continue to do here."
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.