Giro d'Italia 2014 highlights, stages 1-4

From Ireland to Italy, grand tour off to a wet and wild start

This year the Giro d'Italia, the first of the world's three grand tours, kicked off in Ireland, of all places. After three stages on the Emerald Isle wrapping up in Dublin, the race moved down to Italy for stage 4 Tuesday. Australian Michael Matthews of Orica-GreenEdge holds the pink leader's jersey.

For complete coverage of the Giro d'Italia, head to Cyclingnews.com. Here is a quick synopsis of the action thus far.

Stage 1: Belfast team time trial

Orica-GreenEdge made use of a perfect storm to win the opening stage of the 2014 Giro d’Italia. The Australian WorldTour team, who claimed the win in the same discipline at the Tour de France last summer, posted a time of 24:42 over the 21.7km course with Svein Tuft crossing the line first to secure the maglia rosa on his 37th birthday.

Rigoberto Uran and his Omega Pharma QuickStep team finished second, five second down, with Cadel Evans and his BMC teammates in third, seven seconds adrift of Orica-GreenEdge. However, both teams were forced to contend with wet roads after a rain shower blighted a gripping opening stage.

There was heartbreak for Garmin-Sharp’s general classification contender and home favourite Dan Martin. The Irishman crashed out of the race with a suspected broken collarbone. Although the team's other GC man, 2012 Giro d'Italia winner Ryder Hesjedal, finished safely with four others, his team’s race hangs in tatters after they lost 3:26 in the stage.

Related Tech Gallery: Giro d'Italia Time Trial Bikes

Stage 2: Belfast 219km

Talked up as the outstanding favourite for the opening road stage of the Giro d’Italia in Belfast, Marcel Kittel (Giant-Shimano) fully lived up to that status. Coming out of a tight left-hand turn with 300 metres to go, FDJ.fr’s Nacer Bouhanni was the first to open up his sprint, but once Kittel got his gear spinning he bulleted past the Frenchman to win by three bike-lengths.

Bouhanni held on to finish second, ahead of a quartet of Italian sprinters, who were led in by Trek Factory Racing’s Giacomo Nizzolo.

Eighth place for Michael Matthews was enough to move him into the maglia rosa at the expense of teammate Svein Tuft. Matthews only needed to finish ahead of Tuft on the day to take the lead, but a split in the bunch behind the sprinters moved the Australian sprinter three seconds clear of his Orica-GreenEdge teammates following their success in the previous day’s team time trial.

Related Tech Gallery: The Details That Set Pro Bikes Apart

Stage 3: Armagh - Dublin 187km

Marcel Kittel (Giant-Shimano) claimed his second stage win in Dublin. The German had to do it the hard way this time and forced himself into contention after losing contact with his rivals in the last kilometre. However, he proved his mettle, pulling himself onto Ben Swift's wheel before edging out the Team Sky rider on the line. Elia Viviani (Cannondale) finished third.

Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEdge) retained his maglia rosa and will lead the race back to Italy. Alessandro Petacchi (Omega Pharma QuickStep) moved into second overall but the Italian still sits eight seconds down on the Australian.

Stage 4: Giovinazzo - Bari 112km

Nacer Bouhanni (FDJ.fr) won the first stage on Italian soil in a sprint after a series of late crashes and a rider protest forced race officials to neutralize the final lap.

The riders were worried that rain would make the city centre finishing circuit very slippery and rode slowly for much of the stage until it was confirmed that times for the overall classification would be taken with one lap and 8.3km to go. Their worries proved right, with riders tumbling in the final corners after a rain shower turned the roads into an ice rink.

Race leader Matthews did not contest the sprint but retained the race leader's pink jersey.

Marcel Kittel, who won two stages in Ireland, was forced to drop out of the race because of a fever.

Because time bonuses were suspended because of the conditions, Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEdge) retains the pink jersey by eight seconds over Alessandro Petacchi (Omega Pharma-QuickStep).

Head to Cyclingnews.com for comprehensive news of the Giro d'Italia.

Matthews in pink

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