BELFAST, Northern Ireland (AP) — Marcel Kittel sprinted to victory in a wet second stage of the Giro d’Italia on Saturday as Michael Matthews took the overall leader’s pink jersey from Orica-GreenEdge teammate Svein Tuft.
Kittel timed his move to perfection, with 200 meters remaining, to edge out Nacer Bouhanni and Giacomo Nizzolo in a bunch sprint at the end of the 218-kilometer (135-mile) leg, which started and ended in Belfast.
The German cyclist clocked more than five hours to claim his first Giro stage win on the day before his 26th birthday.
“Honestly, it was not so easy today to stay in front with the team, I lost them a few times,” Kittel said. “It was a very hard day with all the rain, and the boys did an amazing job.
“The weather was very Irish I guess, and you’re cold if you ride five hours in the rain.
“I was really overwhelmed by all the people on the roads, it was really a big party despite the weather. I’m super happy and proud about this win, it’s really something to have a win in each of the three Grand Tours.”
Matthews finished three seconds ahead of his Orica teammates and was hoping to still be wearing the maglia rosa when the Giro moves into Italy.
“I didn’t expect it, it’s truly an honor to be wearing this jersey,” Matthews said. “We had a great team time trial yesterday and we decided to give it to Svein for his birthday. To take it today is truly something amazing.
“I’ll try to keep it as long as I can, hopefully until at least stage six or seven. There’s a few guys who are close to me. It’s truly a massive thing for the team and for me as well.”
Despite the heavy rain, thousands of people lined the route which took in picturesque rock formation, the Giant’s Causeway, as it wound down the coast.
Two Garmin-Sharp cyclists withdrew from the race following a crash in Friday’s opening team time trial. Dan Martin will have surgery later Saturday on a broken collarbone. Teammate Koldo Fernandez finished the stage, but tests afterward revealed he had also broken his clavicle.
There was an early breakaway of four riders. Jeffry Romero, Maarten Tjallingii, Sander Armee and Andrea Fedi swiftly built a lead of more than six minutes on the peloton, which was led by time trial winner Orica.
Tjallingii had a superb stage. Not only did the Dutch cyclist lead for most of the day, but he also powered up both category four climbs to claim the blue King of the Mountains jersey.
With the peloton quickly catching the four escapees, Tjallingii made a solo break with 8 kilometers (5 miles) to go and briefly looked like holding on until he was caught with little more than 3 kilometers remaining.
Sunday’s third stage is a 187-kilometer (116-mile) cross-border leg from Armagh to Dublin. Monday is a rest day before the race resumes in southern Italy with a stage ending in Bari.
The Giro ends in Trieste on June 1.