Taylor Phinney's homework in memorising each of the 17 bends of today's 8.7 kilometre time trial course in the opening stage of the 2012 Giro d'Italia in the Danish town of Herning was rewarded as the 21-year-old American took the first maglia rosa of this year's race for BMC Racing in a time of 10 minutes 26 seconds. Team Sky's Geraint Thomas, who minutes previously had posted what was the quickest time, was 9 seconds back in second place, with Garmin Barracuda's Alex Rasmussen, cheered on by big crowds in his native country, third.
The Gazzetta dello Sport, the newspaper which created the race 103 years ago, had identified Phinney as the man to beat on today's course, which featured a technical first half with a series of tight corners before giving way to a straighter second half. The American, a former world champion in the individual pursuit, had said that he knew the course so well he could do it blindfold, and it was on the second part of the course that he powered away to build up his winning margin, having been 2 seconds slower than Thomas at the intermediate time check.
Garmin-Barracuda’s Ramunas Navardauskus, the 35th of the 198 riders out on the course this afternoon, had set the benchmark time of 10 minutes 48 seconds, and the Lithuanian's time would remain the fastest for two and a half hours until it was broken three times in succession by three of the favourites for the win today, on a cold and windy afternoon, but one on which the rain held off.
The first of those riders, Manuele Boaro, the 24-year-old Italian riding for Saxo Bank in the home town of that team's maager, Bjarne Riis, equalled the fastest intermediate time which had been set an hour earlier by Orica GreenEdge's Brett Lancaster. Thomas, immediately behind him, went a second quicker despite having suffered a wobble on one of those early corners, and it was clear that Navardauskus's time was under severe threat.
Boaro completed the course 7 seconds quicker than the previous best time, but his leadership of the stage was short-lived as Thomas immediately went faster by nearly the same margin. The next-but-one man down the road, however, was Phinney, and by the time he crossed the line, he had not only pulled back the 2-second advantage that the Team Sky rider had over him at halfway, but also established a winning margin of 9 seconds.
There were still another 16 riders to come, but only Vacansoleil-DCM's Gustav Larsson, who would finish in fifth place, and Rasmussen, second to David Millar in the closing time trial in last year's Giro in Milan when he was with HTC Highroad, would come challenge the leading times.
Rasmussen, like Phinney and Thomas a world champion on the track - if nothing else, the the result of today's stage leaves fans ruing the absence of the individual pursuit from this summer's Olympics - was cheered on by home fans all the way along the course, but was 5 seconds down on Thomas's mark at the intermediate check point.
The 27-year-old Dane, whose career hung in the balance last year as a result of alleged wherebouts infringments, rode well in the second half, however, to clinch third place on a day characterised by solid performances throughout the Garmin-Barracuda team, with five riders in the top 20.
Michele Scarponi of Lampre-ISD, wearing the pink skinsuit that denoted his status as defending champion - the Italian was awarded the win after Alberto Contador was stripped of the 2011 victory earlier this year at the same time as he received his two-year ban - was the last man out on the course.
While Scarponi was never likely to have figured towards the top of the standings today, he may be disappointed with losing nearly half a minute to the man many see as his biggest rival for the overall title, 2006 and 2010 champion Ivan Basso of Liquigas-Cannondale.
Giro d'Italia Stage 1 result 1 PHINNEY Taylor BMC 10:26 2 THOMAS Geraint SKY 10:35 at 0:09 3 RASMUSSEN Alex GRM 10:39 0:13 4 BOARO Manuele SAX 10:41 0:15 5 LARSSON Gustav VCD 10:48 0:22 6 NAVARDAUSKAS Ramunas GRM 7 LANCASTER Brett OGE 10:49 0:23 8 PINOTTI Marco BMC 10:50 0:24 9 SERGENT Jesse RNT 10:52 0:26 10 OLIVEIRA Nelson RNT 10:53 0:27 11 VAITKUS Tomas OGE 12 CLEMENT Stef RAB 10:54 0:28 13 HUNTER Robert GRM 14 BAUER Jack GRM 15 BODNAR Maciej LIQ 10:55 0:29 16 GASPAROTTO Enrico AST 17 HESJEDAL Ryder GRM 18 KWIATKOWSKI Michal OPQ 19 CATALDO Dario OPQ 10:57 0:31 20 POZZATO Filippo FAR 10:58 0:32
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.