This article was originally published on Cyclingnews.com
Taylor Phinney powered his way to the first maglia rosa of the 2012 Giro d'Italia, blowing away the rest of the field in the opening time trial. He covered the 8.7km course in only 10:26. Second place went to Geraint Thomas (Sky) at 10:35, with Danish rider Alex Rasmussen of Garmin-Barracuda third at 10:39.
It was a sunny but cool day, and the wind didn't have the expected effect. Ramunas Navardauskas (Garmin-Barracuda) set an early best time of 10:48. He stayed atop the board for a long time, but finally the times started tumbling.
Within only few minutes, Manuele Boaro (Saxo Bank) and Geraint Thomas (Sky) topped his times, only to have Phinney, a former U23 time trial world champion, cruise in with his phenomenal time.
The race of truth
If the time trial is cycling's race of truth, then an 8.7km Grand Tour prologue is more of a brief physiology lab test carried out in the open air, in full view of the public and the media. Worse, on the flat, cold and windy roads around suburban Herning, all the Giro's general classification contenders could hope to do was limit their losses to each other and pray that they didn't crash.
The pre-race chatter was all about how there were no obvious favourites for the 2012 Giro, and it's safe to say that the Danish prologue hasn't provided much in the way of enlightenment.
What can you deduce from a prologue? A little but not a lot, especially in a race as hard to predict as the Giro. But, to be fair, we did learn that - barring physiological miracle or acts of God - neither Frank Schleck (RadioShack), Damiano Cunego (Lampre) or Michele Scarponi (Lampre) are going to win, which is something.
In as much as the BMC team had come to the Giro having endured a less than ground-shaking Classics season, Phinney's convincing winning ride - nine seconds clear of Thomas - was probably the best thing to have happened to the team in 2012.
In fact, scratch the "probably", it was the best thing to happen to the team this season by miles. It was, after all, BMC's first big win of 2012 (no disrespect to the Giro di Toscana win of an eager looking Alessandro Ballan, 34th at 39 seconds here).
It was a great day for Phinney. The last time an American took the leader's jersey in the Giro was back in 2008 when Christian Vande Velde claimed it for Slipstream Chipotle after the team time trial. Prior to that, of course, Andy Hampsten wore it all the way to the finish back in 1988, although Phinney isn't going to manage that, but there's no reason why he shouldn't hold on to it for a few days if the team has the desire.
So who was the "winner" among the GC riders? Who "won" the prologue among the riders looking to get on the box in Milan? Well, hands up who predicted Ryder Hesjedal of Garmin? Is it still worth saying he's an ex-mountain biker? Or Canadian? What is worth pointing out is that he rode a rear disc and a medium depth front wheel in the gusty conditions and he rode the flat course utterly committed. For a rider not noted for his Grand Tour prologue skills, it was a great effort and suggests that his form is headed the right way at the right time. If Hesjedal doesn't finish in the top 10 by the time the race reaches Milan, we'll be surprised, eh?
Another (small) surprise was provided by Roman Kreuziger (Astana). The young Czech rode perfect lines through some of the faster corners, his body language suggesting that he was on a mission. High corner speeds, using all of the road on the corner exits, he looked smooth and determined. Although he was ‘only' 28th at 36 seconds, he was a scant seven seconds behind Hesjedal. There was a strong team showing from Astana too, a bunch of stern-faced hard men who know that they are there to help young Roman.
Ivan Basso (Liquigas) didn't look comfortable or fast and was clearly giving it his all. In light of his poor early season campaign, his 35th at 39 seconds was better than many would have predicted on such a course. Maybe Basso has timed his season build-up perfectly after all?
But what was more revealing were the gaps that Hesjedal, Basso and Kreuziger put into Frank Schleck, Damiano Cunego and Michele Scarponi. Although those time gaps are small, the times reveal more about form than the slim few seconds might suggest. How do you look at a loss of 30 seconds in eight kilometers and convince everyone it doesn't mean anything?
Lampre's Scarponi, wearing the maglia rosa from 2011 that he collected late, so to speak, following Alberto Contador's disqualification, was about as impressive as fellow Lampre man Damiano Cunego, one as unconvincing as the other, which should be great for morale and team talks around the Lampre dinner table. Cunego looked as though he was riding through treacle, clogging along in low revs and low speed to finish 124th at 1-03. It was still better than the defending maglia rosa, with Scarponi 135th, a further three seconds slower than Cunego.
Perhaps Schleck, Cunego and Scarponi really will need time to ride themselves into the race. You suspect however, by the time that happens, the GC battle will be even further up the road and they'll be hunting for stage wins rather than Milanese podiums.