Navardauskas becomes Lithuania’s first Giro leader

Garmin-Barracuda rider Ramunas Navardauskas of Lithuania celebrates on the podium as he wears the leader pink jersey after the team time trial 33.2-km fourth stage of the Giro d’Italia in Verona May 9, 2012. (REUTERS/Alessandro Garofalo)

By Alasdair Fotheringham

VERONA, Italy, May 9 (Reuters) – Ramunas Navardauskas became the first Lithuanian to lead the Giro d’Italia when his Garmin-Barracuda team won Wednesday’s team time trial but he had to dig painfully deep to make sure he got the pink jersey.

As his team swept towards the finish of the 32-km course close to Verona’s city centre, the lanky 24-year-old dropped up to 10 metres behind his colleagues before regaining contact to take the overall race lead.

“It was very difficult, I’m so tired, I could barely keep in touch with the rest of the guys in the last kilometre,” an exhausted Navardauskas told reporters.

“But everybody did a good job to make sure this happened, although I really didn’t expect the lead when I came to the race.”

Winners of the time trials at the 2008 Giro and last year’s Tour de France, the Garmin-Barracuda squad finished five seconds clear of a surprisingly strong Katusha team with Astana in third.

Overnight leader Taylor Phinney’s BMC squad had a nightmarish ride when the American skidded off the road on a twisting downhill section, somehow staying upright as his bike sliced through the grass.

Phinney said he was already feeling rough when the incident happened and his team lost time reforming as they waited for him.

“I had a rough day, I don’t know if it was the crash I had on Monday or what,” said Phinney, who slumped to fifth overall, 13 seconds off Navardauskas.

“Luckily I didn’t fall off today as well, but from the third time I went to the front of the line, I could see something wasn’t right.”

Of the favourites, Spain’s Joaquim Rodriguez benefited the most as Katusha team’s strong ride put him 10th overall, 30 seconds back.

“The three stages in Denmark and this team time trial were the ones that worried me the most about this Giro, so this is a great result overall,” said Rodriguez who was fifth last year.

Roman Kreuziger of the Czech Republic is 26th at 40 seconds with Italy’s double Giro winner Ivan Basso in 33rd at 47 seconds.

Thursday’s flat 209-km run from Modena to Fano favours the sprinters while Friday’s incursion into the eastern Apennines should be the next challenge for the overall contenders.

The Giro d’Italia finishes on May 27 in Milan.

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