Full report and reaction from the opening road stage of the Giro d'Italia as Marcel Kittel edges closer to the pink jersey with victory in Nijmegen.
Arnhem - Nijmegen
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Too easy for Kittel today - look at that gap, it's at least two bike lengths...
Kittel will take the 10 bonus seconds so he'll be up to second place on GC, one second behind the maglia rosa, Tom Dumoulin of Giant-Alpecin. Another win tomorrow and he'll be in pink himself...
No competition for Kittel who eased to a win there - he's just so strong when on form like this. Demare took second ahead of Modolo, Hofland, Ruffoni and Forsev. That was quite a subdued finish by some of the other big sprinters, who lost their positions and were always riding against the tide.
Demare opens it up... but it's an easy win for Marcel Kittel, whose 100% record continues.
FDJ muscle in and disrupt the Etixx train!
Ewan is on the back wheel of Kittel - he knows the German is the man to follow. They're approaching the final kilometre now...
Here are Etixx-QuickStep: Bob Jungels is on the front with a team-mate, with three riders - including Kittel - further back. Now he's being moved up to the front...
Now the red jerseys of Lotto Soudal edge up for Greipel. GreenEdge there but still no Etixx.
It's getting spicier now they're on the bridge for the final time. Cannondale, Sky and FDJ are all heavily present on the front, as are Movistar. No sign of Etixx for now.
LottoNL-Jumbo, the only Dutch team in the peloton, and Giant-Alpecin are on the front with Astana and Cannondale. The relative calm before the sprinting storm...
Over the finish line they go for the second time: one more lap to go!
Giacomo Berlato, the last of three escapees who broke clear right at the start, is caught by the pack just after the 10-to-go banner. Game on!
The FDJ team-mates of Milan-San Remo winner Arnaud Demare have clustered near the front. Berlato, the lone leader, has 40 seconds to play with. He's giving it his all but surely it won't be enough. Sky have come forward too - to protect leader Mikel Landa and to prepare the way for sprinter Elia Viviani.
INFO: The final 8.6km circuit, to be ridden twice, runs along wide, straight urban avenues, dotted with roundabouts. The route passes over the Waal River twice on bridges that have slight up- and downhill gradients. The home straight is 350 m long, on 8-m wide asphalt road. The final kilometres are slightly curved, but with no real bends.
Admittedly not many people voted in this - and there were only four options, meaning you couldn't opt for the likes of Arnaud Demare, Moreno Hofland or Jose Joaquim Rojas... but it seems that Marcel Kittel is the hot favourite today.
Berlato crosses the finish line for the first time ahead of the two laps of this circuit. He's really giving it some wellie and has extended his lead to 55 seconds.
Berlato has managed to break clear of his fellow escapees. He missed out on both intermediate sprints to Tjallingi, and to Fraile on the climb, so it's his turn to prise something from his day out ahead. The 24 year-old has 40 seconds to play with over the pack.
Berlato kicks clear in a bit to win the combativity prize. Tjallingii leads the chase and he reels in the Italian with Fraile. The gap is still 45 seconds as they cross the river Waal again.
CRASH: There's a spill in the pack and riders from Cannondale, Lotto Soudal and Gazprom go down. No big names - and that's the first accident of the race so far.
Maarten Tjallingii is milking the applause as he gesticulates wildly to the fans in Nijmegen - the oldest town in the Netherlands. The three leaders have just 50 seconds now and they know their time in the sun is over.
Yes, it's curtains for the break: the gap is down to just 1:20 now. That was a fast turning of the screw. Meanwhile, Sem Bewley of Orica-GreenEdge flats and needs a (very slow) front tyre change. The New Zealander will have to fight back if he wants to be a part of Caleb Ewan's sprint train, of which he is a usual vital component.
Now the pace is getting faster as the sprinters' teams come to the front and up the tempo something rotten.
Can these three hold on? It's unlikely - very - but you never know... Well, you do. And they won't. But still.
So, although we said that the second sprint was at the same place as the climb, that was not actually the case. It was the same town - Berg en Dal - but certainly a different road. The gap is still 3:55 for the leaders.
Of course, Tjallingii wore the first blue jersey two years ago in Ireland so he has experience here. They're all neck and neck as they wait to open the sprint. And it's Berlato and Fraile who take it up... Tjallingii has a dig but it's Omar Fraile of Dimension Data who takes crosses the line to take maximum points and with it the first KOM blue jersey of the race.
This Cat.4 climb to Berg en Dal is just over 1km in length and has a maximum gradient of 12% but an average gradient of 7%.
Three minutes is the gap as the three leaders ride towards the foot of the Cat.4 climb. To be fair, while the sun is out and the fans are really enjoying themselves, this has been far from vintage viewing. Not the most exciting Grand Tour stage that you'll see.
Tjallingii is on to 40 points in the red jersey standings - but today's stage winner will get 50 points so whoever wins it will move into the lead of the points standings, that's for sure.
Nizzolo doubles up: the Italian wins the uphill sprint for fourth place in the pack ahead of Viviani and Kittel.
Funnily enough, the second intermediate sprint is also the same setting for the Cat.4 climb summit. Tjallingii wins the sprint to take three bonus seconds - but that one was uncontested as well. The next time round it will be different - because all three men will be after that blue climbers' tunic. The gap is back up to four minutes for Tjallingii, Fraile and Berlato.
The first intermediate sprint was just for points, the second one is for bonus seconds. Just to let you know.
Back in the pack, Giacomo Nizzolo (Trek-Segafredo) darts off the front to mop up the remaining points for fourth place ahead of Sacha Modolo (Lampre-Merida) and Elia Viviani (Team Sky). Remember, Nizzolo won the red jersey last year without winning a single stage - he was just extremely consistent, plus was one of the few sprinters who went the entire distance. The gap is down to 3:25 now.
Italian national champion Vincenzo Nibali is rejoining the peloton with two Astana team-mates - he must have dropped back to the team car or to answer a call of nature.
The leaders approach the first intermediate sprint and it's won, uncontested, by the Dutch veteran Tjallingii ahead of Fraile and Berlato. The two youngsters probably did the right thing there and let the local experienced rider take the spoils.
We've seen a lot of these today...
Ivan Rovny drops back to pick up a bidon vest from the Tinkoff car. The pace has upped a little and the peloton is a bit strung out. That didn't last long, however. It's now fairly compact and relaxed. The gap for the three leaders is 4:18.
Fabian Cancellara riding near the back of the peloton. The Swiss veteran has been suffering with an illness and he doesn't look so comfortable. He was 8th in yesterday's time trial, 14 seconds down.
Lampre-Merida have a couple of men on the front of the pack now. They're man for the sprints is Sacha Modolo, who picked up a brace of wins last week in the Tour of Turkey.
The riders have passed windmills aplenty today. The leaders have five minutes to play with the intermediate sprints and the Cat.4 climb coming up soon.
The gap is coming down pretty quickly now: 5:30 at the latest check.
Before we hit the business end of today's stage why not have a read of the full Blazin' Saddles race preview, which includes rider ratings, route info and a bit of history.
FACT: No Dutchman has ever won the Giro d'Italia in the race's 98 editions to date. Dumoulin has already said that the GC is not his aim in this year's race, he's after wins in all the time trials: one down, two to go. No one has won a sunrise-sunset Giro - leading from start to finish - since Gianni Bugno in 1990. Could Dumoulin? Sean Kelly certainly reckons he has a chance... especially if he builds up a strong lead in the ITT in Chianti in the second week and ahead of the high mountains.
The break roll through the feedzone with a gap of 7:07 over the pack, which is being led by the Giant-Alpecin team of Tom Dumoulin and the Orica-GreenEdge team of Caleb Ewan. Ewan won a stage on the Vuelta last year and is seen as the natural successor of Mark Cavendish, sharing the Manxman's propensity to get very low in the sprint. The Australian has had a strong off-season with victories in numerous criteriums Down Under before picking up where he left off in the Tour Down Under.
The pack is crossing the Waal river on a wide bridge. There are some hefty barges and boats passing underneath. It's all very Dutch.
Not long until the three leaders reach the feedzone. They still have 7:20 over the pack on these narrow Dutch roads. The sun is still shining and the fans are out in their droves - in fact, it's the first time you see more pink than orange in the Netherlands.
Astana and Movistar have edged to the front of the peloton to work for their main men, Vincenzo Nibali and Alejandro Valverde. I have to say, Movistar's Andrey Amador seriously impressed yesterday during the time trial, taking a surprise third place.
The gap for the three leaders is down to 8:30 so they're still riding well. It's not inconceivable that they stay out all the way, but highly unlikely. It's really all about those KOM points and the bragging rights of wearing the first blue jersey of the race. Surely it's a shoo-in for a bunch sprint tonight.
We also spoke to Italy's Elia Viviani of Team Sky, who will have to do things without a dedicated sprint train, what with Sky's main focus being Mikel Landa for GC. Viviani told Eurosport's Laura Meseguer: "It's a good day. It was really emotional to win my first Grand Tour stage win last year on the Giro d'Italia and I will try and do the same again today. I'll have to join the right train and see what happens. Kittel is the man to beat but all the sprinters are in good shape - Modolo and Nizzolo won last week, so it will be hard."
German veteran Andre Greipel has won at least one stage in every Grand Tour he has ridden since 2008. We spoke to the Lotto-Soudal sprinter before the start: "The weather is nice and the crowd is amazing and hopefully we're going to see a really good bunch sprint. It's going to be a little bit nervous with the road furniture but we'll have to try and stay out of trouble at the front. There are loads of sprinters so it's going to be interesting."
We spoke to Marcel Kittel this morning at the start: "I'm feeling good and I'm lookign forward to day. The sun is out the the people love cycling here in the Netherlands. For me it's been a great year so far. I'm relaxed and I'm looking forward to trying to do my best over the next days. It's another year, another team, another season. "
Of course, Kittel is not the only sprinter out there who could take today's victory - should it result in the expected bunch sprint. Sure, there's no Mark Cavendish, Peter Sagan, Nacer Bouhanni or Alexander Kristoff, but the field's still hugely stellar with the likes of Caleb Ewan (Orica-GreenEdge), Andre Greipel (Lotto-Soudal), Arnaud Demare (FDJ), Elia Viviani (Team Sky), Giacomo Nizzolo (Trek-Segafredo), Jakub Mareczko (Willier-Southeast), Moreno Hofland (LottoNL-Jumbo), Jose Joaquin Rojas (Movistar), Matteo Pelucchi (IAM Cycling), Sacha Modolo (Lampre-Merida), Kristian Sbaragli (Dimension Data) and Ramunas Navardauskas (Cannondale) all taking part as well as the German powerhouse.
The gap continues to grow: it's 9:20 now for the three leaders. The bespectacled Berlato is riding his second Giro after impressing with his agressive riding in his debut last year for Nippo-Fantini. The 24 year-old is still searching for his maiden pro win but he has time on his side, and clearly the right work ethic.
The three leaders - Tjallingii, Fraile and Berlato - now have 8:35 over the pack so they're rolling along nicely. Dutch veteran Tjallingii is the best placed rider on GC after finishing yesterday's time trial in 46th place, making him the virtual maglia rosa. He signed a contract extension through to the end of June so that he could ride this Giro - the fifth of his career. He's still without a stage in in 11 Grand Tours. In fact, he only has three pro wins in his long career - in the World Ports Classic in 2013 and in the Tour of Belgium in 2006, where he won both the opening stage and the general classification. Could the 38-year-old go out with a bang on home soil?
FACT: Arnhem, today's start town, was hometown to physicist and Nobel Prize laureate Hendrik Lorentz (1853-1928), the painter Anton Sminck van Pitloo (1790-1837) and the actress Audrey Hepburn (1929-1993), who lived in Arnhem during WWII.
Of course, Kittel could have gone into the maglia rosa today by virtue of bonus seconds: not only are there 10 seconds available for the winner (as well as 6 for second and 4 for third) there are 3/2/1 seconds up for grabs in the intermediate sprints. Kittel is 11 seconds down on GC, but with three riders in the break and well clear, they will mop up those intermediate bonuses before the pack passes through.
No surprise to see Etixx-QuickStep sharing the pacing duties on the front of the pack with Giant-Alpecin. They'll be hoping to deliver Marcel Kittel to the line today in the expected bunch sprint.
So, Dumoulin is in pink today and he also leads the sprint classification but it's the man who finished runner-up yesterday, former ski jumper Primoz Roglic (LottoNL-Jumbo) who is in red, the maglia rossa. No one is in the maglia azzurra yet with there having been no climbs yesterday, while Dumoulin's Swedish team-mate Tobias Ludvigsson is in the white young rider's jersey after finishing fourth yesterday.
After the opening 40-odd kilometres the gap of this three-man break has ballooned to six-and-a-half minutes, which means they're here to stay for a while - at least until after that Cat.4 climb that will decide the first blue climbing jersey of the race, which comes 45km from the finish.
Only 25 kilometres split today's start and finish towns but the route includes a big loop out to the west and around the Waal valley before returning to those two laps of the finishing circuit.
The big favourite today is German sprinter Marcel Kittel, who has never lost a road stage on the Giro d'Italia. Admittedly, he's only ridden two - but still, a stat's a stat. Kittel won the two road stages in 2014 when the Giro started in Northern Ireland, picking up wins in both Belfast and Dublin. He then withdrew from the race before it resumed back in mainland Italy. Now at Etixx-QuickStep, the bequiffed tyro has got back to winning ways after his troubled 2015 - and yesterday finished an impressive fifth, 11 seconds down on Dumoulin. With 10 bonus seconds up for grabs for the winner, Kittel could move within a second of the maglia rosa today...
It's a hot and sunny day in the Netherlands with a temperature of 26C. The wind that everyone thought could be a factor in these Dutch stages is pretty non-existent but the usual concerns with the Dutch road furniture will no doubt be felt at some point today. Let's just hope there aren't any serious crashes out there - it's always so nervous at the beginning of these Grand Tours with the teams of the sprinters and GC favourites looking to keep out of trouble on the front of the pack.
With that one fourth-category climb on the horizon today the first blue mountains jersey is up for grabs. That could explain Omar Fraile's presence in the break: the young Spaniard won the Vuelta's polka dot KOM jersey in his debut Grand Tour last season for Caja Rural. Now at DImension Data, Fraile may fancy picking things up where he left off.
And the first attack of the 2016 Giro d'Italia comes and it contains the man who will retire after this race, Maarten Tjallingii (LottoNL-Jumbo). The veteran Dutchman is joined by Omar Fraile (Dimension Data) and Giacomo Berlato (Nippo Vini Fantini).
They're off! And here's a little look at Dumoulin in the neutral zone, with his pink hemmed shorts and pink bar tape.
All 198 riders have taken to the start today, including Fabian Cancellara, the Trek-Segafredo veteran who has been suffering from stomach flu these past few days.
There was a lot of pressure on Dumoulin to deliver the goods yesterday and he managed to keep his cool - just. The rangy Dutchman won by just a fraction of a second over the largely unknown Primoz Roglic, and he certainly benefited from Fabian Cancellara being ill and Stefan Kung overcooking a bend and hitting the deck at the halfway stage. But a win's a win - and it was a first for the season for Giant Alpecin and will do Dumoulin and the team a world of good. What must have helped him was his experiences in the opening time trial of the Tour last year at Utrecht, where despite being favourite he could only muster fourth.
Yesterday, local favourite Tom Dumoulin won the opening stage of the race – a 9.8km individual time trial – to take the first maglia rosa of the Giro in the Dutch city of Apeldoorn. Delivering his Giant-Alpecin team their first win of the season, Dumoulin completed the pan-flat race against the clock in a time of 11 minutes and three seconds – a fraction of a second quicker than Slovenian Grand Tour debutant, the former ski-jumper Primoz Roglic of LottoNL-Jumbo.
Ciao! Or should we say, Hallo! Because we're still in the Netherlands for stage two of the Giro d'Italia. It's the first road stage of the race - a largely flat 190km ride from Arnhem to Nijmegen, which concludes with two 8.6km riverside laps after the first Cat.4 climb of the 99th edition of the race.