Updated at 22.21
CANADIAN SVEIN TUFT, riding for Australian team Orica-GreenEdge, enjoyed a birthday to remember as the Giro d’Italia got underway in Belfast on Friday.
Tuft celebrated his 37th birthday by leading Orica-GreenEdge over the line at the end of the first stage of the prestigious event.
And since the Australian squad was the fastest of the twenty-two teams, completing the 21.7km course in 24 minutes 42 seconds, it was Tuft who became the first wearer of the race leader’s pink jersey.
While Tuft was on a high, there was a disaster for home favourite Dan Martin.
The Irishman, a stage winner in last year’s Tour de France, crashed heavily when his wheel appeared to slide on a wet manhole cover, bringing down four of his Garmin-Sharp team-mates.
It was Martin’s second cruel disappointment in a month, after a crash on the final corner of Liege-Bastogne-Liege in late April ended his chances of defending the title.
His fall in Belfast saw him taken to hospital with a broken collar-bone, ending his Giro just fifteen minutes after it started.
Orica’s win continued their good record in this discipline after their close victory in the team time trial at last year’s Tour de France.
Their win in Belfast was a lot more comfortable and convincing. But the Australian squad was blessed with some good fortune.
They were the second team to start from the Belfast Waterfront as a strong wind swirled and dark clouds threatened rain.
The rain began to fall halfway through their ride and became heavier as the 20 remaining teams headed out on a course that looped out of the city to Stormont Castle before returning to the waterfront.
The weather meant some teams were cautious and lost time, including two of the pre-race favourites, Nairo Quintana of Colombia and Joaquim Rodriguez of Spain, whose Movistar and Katusha teams lost 55 seconds and one minute 33 seconds respectively.
Eventually the rain eased for the final few teams, including BMC, with Australia’s 2011 Tour de France winner Cadel Evans.
They rode strongly to finish third just seven seconds slower than Orica.
Belgium’s Omega Pharma-QuickStep team was second, five seconds down, and there was better news for the other Irish hope, Nicolas Roche, whose Tinkoff-Saxo team was fourth, 23 seconds behind the winners.
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