OLBIA, Italy — Lukas Postlberger had a dream Grand Tour debut as the Austrian surprisingly won the opening stage of the 100th Giro d’Italia to claim the pink jersey on Friday.
Victory was expected to go to one of the top sprinters but Postlberger, a leadout man, hit the front with two kilometres to go in support of Bora-Hansgrohe teammate Sam Bennett, and when a gap opened behind him he simply kept on going.
Postlberger looked back several times, almost in disbelief, as none of the sprinters appeared keen to take control. The 25-year-old rider even had time to raise his arms in the air as he crossed the line, winning in 5 hours, 13 minutes, 35 seconds.
"We wanted to try for a sprint for the final for Sam (Bennett). Through the city the leadout trains, I don’t know, they lost my wheel or something and I had a gap," said Postlberger, who became the first Austrian to wear the pink jersey.
"I heard over the radio, ‘C’mon, Posty go try!’ and I put all I have in. It worked out: victory for the team, first professional victory for me, maglia rosa."
Caleb Ewan won the bunch sprint for second place followed by Andre Greipel at the end of the 206-kilometre (128-mile) leg along the northern coast of Sardinia, from Alghero to Olbia.
There was a minute’s silence before the start, in tribute to Michele Scarponi, who died last month at the age of 37 after a collision with a van while training near his home.
The Astana team, which Scarponi would have led at this race, was on the front line of the bunch for the very first part of the course.
It was a remarkably calm opening stage for much of the day. There was an early break of six riders whose advantage went up to more than seven minutes as there was no particular urgency in the peloton.
Mirco Maestri was dropped but Cesare Benedetti, Marcin Bialoblocki, Pavel Brutt, Daniel Teklehaimanot and Eugert Zhupa still led on the third and final category four climb, the San Pantaleo, as the peloton upped the pace.
The bunch swept up Bialoblocki at the summit, 46 seconds down on the escapees, with 21K remaining.
The remaining four did their best to stay out front but were caught with 3.7K to go, shortly before a crash.
No riders appeared to be hurt but Steven Kruijswijk was caught up in the chaos and lost 13 seconds to his general classification rivals, including overall favourites Nairo Quintana and Vincenzo Nibali.
There are two more stages in Sardinia. The second stage on Saturday is a hilly 221-kilometre (137-mile) leg from Olbia to Tortoli.
The Giro ends on May 28 with a 28-kilometre (17.4-mile) individual time trial from Monza’s Formula One track to Milan’s cathedral.