By ARON HELLER
JERUSALEM (AP) — With Chris Froome likely feeling the ill effects of a training crash, defending champion Tom Dumoulin won the opening stage of the 101st Giro d’Italia on Friday. Froome, who bloodied his right knee and ripped his shorts and jersey in the crash shortly before the time trial started, finished 37 seconds behind Dumoulin in 21st place. Dumoulin said he heard about Froome’s crash before the race and was aware of the tricky route that snaked through Jerusalem. “The roads were OK. They were a little bit bumpy. … it was very technical and very demanding and very challenging course, but for me it was OK,” said the Dutchman, who rides for Team Sunweb.
“You just have to be careful and take some good corners and be cautious when you have to be.” Froome, a British cyclist who won both the Tour de France and Spanish Vuelta last year, is looking to become only the third person ever to win the three Grand Tour titles in a row.
Dumoulin was the last of the 175 riders to start the stage and finished the 9.7-kilometer (6-mile) time trial in 12 minutes, 2 seconds to claim the pink jersey. Australian rider Rohan Dennis was two seconds behind in second place. Thousands of spectators lined Jerusalem’s streets to watch the first time a Grand Tour cycling race has ever been held outside Europe.
The cyclists passed Israel’s parliament, Supreme Court, the Israel Museum and the Hebrew University on their route through the city. The historic opening of the race concluded just as the previous one ended, with Dumoulin grabbing the overall lead in an individual time trial. Last year, he entered the final stage in Milan in fourth but surged to victory. On Friday, he chased down Dennis, who is the team leader of BMC Racing, to win the opening stage. Victor Campenaerts of Lotto Soudal finished third with the same time as Dennis. “This is all I wished, the win and quite a lot of time on the other GC riders,” Dumoulin said. “I knew I was ready for the Giro but I wasn’t sure I’d win today. The course was hard but absolutely perfect for me.”
Although the 27-year-old Dumoulin is likely to hold onto the lead during the early stages in Israel, he said it would be difficult to maintain his advantage for the entire race. “We are not planning on defending it every day. The Giro is still very long. It’s nice to have it today but it’s hard to keep it for the whole three weeks,” the Dutchman said. “We are not planning on defending it whatever the cost. It is going to be a pretty hectic, difficult and hard weeks.”
Jerusalem’s opening leg was named in honor of Gino Bartali, a three-time former Giro champion who in 2013 was posthumously bestowed Israel’s highest honor given to non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during World War II.
The second leg of the race stretches 167 kilometers (104 miles) down the Mediterranean coast from Haifa to Tel Aviv. Stage 3 will follow a 229-kilometer (143-mile) route from Beersheba in the Negev desert down to Israel’s southern tip of Eilat along the Red Sea. The race will then transfer to Italy, and the island of Sicily, for an early rest day on Monday. The Giro will end in Rome on May 27.