Giro: Tough start for Russell Downing

An SRM box falling from the bike of Thomas Löfkvist and bouncing off onto the cobbles and then into the visor of Russell Downing, was not the start to Fonzy’s first Grand Tour that he was looking for.

Link: Previous article in this series on Russell’s first Grand Tour

Russell admitted prior to the stage he was dead nervous and when quizzed about this afterwards, he explained that while he’s ridden the World Road Champs and many other pro races, it wasn’t just the fact he was riding his first Grand Tour but the manner of that start, ie, a Team Time Trial which is not his strongest suit in road racing.

The day began with a lap of the Time Trial course with each team given just one lap to nail the course prior to the event starting. So around 1pm, Russell and the eight other riders rode the course at a nice steady pace according to Russell before jumping in the cars and getting stuck into the chaos on the roads between them and the start.

In the calm of the Team bus back at the start, the Team Sky riders were given another briefing and it was here that Russell’s position in the string was changed. He was to be one of the riders who could be ‘sacrificed’ and so would start in the last position in the team on the ramp. Whilst it sounds harash, being sacrificed, that is part and parcel of being a ‘team’ rider in any pro team in Europe or here in Britain. There will be riders for example who have been told the same thing for the Lincoln Grand Prix tomorrow.

What Russell didn’t expect though was to be hit in the face (visor), lose that visor in the process and then spend the whole of the opening straight chasing to get back on. That incident did, he explained, put him on the backfoot straight away and then once back into the team on the road, he then found himself riding between the two strongest men in the race for Team Sky, Thomas Löfkvist and Peter Kennaugh.

This he did for the next 14 kilometres until he bailed after his final turn and he joined Morris Possoni and Kjell Carlstrom who had also bailed as there was no point getting to the finish with nine riders when only five were needed for a time and Sky finished with six just to be sure.

The team finished the stage in 9th place, the same as their starting position and Russell said that everyone seemed okay with that even though they did go out there for a better result. With the first stage of his first Grand Tour now underway though, he’s able to relax a bit and take in the fact that he’s riding a bike race with the best in the World and admits the atmopshere around the race is brilliant.

Not that he has had a lot of time to soak it up. After the stage, the riders jumped into the cars and headed to the hotel for massage and then the evening meal too fuel up for the longest stage on day 2. Then it was to bed, a routine he’ll being doing again and again for three weeks.

It was a ‘solid start’ says Sky’s director sportif, Sean Yates. “We thought beforehand that fifth or higher would have been exceptional and the time gaps were pretty minimal. The first couple of teams were a little bit ahead but the rest are all quite closely grouped.

“At that intermediate split we were within a couple of seconds of a lot of teams and again, it was only really HTC-Highroad and RadioShack who stuck out on that first section. The build-up went well and the boys tried their utmost – they did everything right so you can’t ask anything more of them really. Remember that a team time trial at a Grand Tour is a pretty new experience for some of our guys and I think they put up a good fight.”

“Our two sprinters Davide and Russell will be giving it everything to get a good result. They’ll go in there with a good attitude and try and mix it up.”

Stage 1, Team Time Trial
1. HTC-Highroad 0:20:59
2. Team RadioShack 0:00:10
3. Liquigas-Cannondale 0:00:22
4. Omega Pharma-Lotto
5. Team Garmin-Cervelo 0:00:24
6. Lampre-ISD
7. Rabobank Cycling Team 0:00:26
8. Saxo Bank Sungard 0:00:30
9. Sky Procycling 0:00:37
10. Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling Team
11. Movistar Team 0:00:38
12. Androni Giocattoli 0:00:39
13. BMC Racing Team 0:00:41
14. Leopard Trek 0:00:42
15. Quickstep Cycling Team
16. AG2R La Mondiale 0:00:49
17. Pro Team Astana 0:00:50
18. Geox-TMC 0:00:53
19. Colnago-CSF Inox 0:01:02
20. Katusha Team 0:01:04
21. Farnese Vini-Neri Sottoli 0:01:07
22. Acqua & Sapone
23. Euskaltel-Euskadi 0:01:13

Team Sky Riders
Thomas Lofkvist (Swe)
Michael Barry (Can)
Kjell Carlstrom (Fin)
Dario David Cioni (Ita)
Russell Downing (GB)
Davide Appollonio (Ita)
Lars Petter Nordhaug (Nor)
Peter Kennaugh (GB)
Morris Possoni (Ita)

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