Giro d'Italia, Garmin pretty in pink after time-trial triumph
A little over a year ago, Garmin Barracuda team boss Jonathon Vaughters tweeted five words. Ramunas Navardauskas; remember that name.
Vaughters had just signed the then 22-year-old to his team as a domestique.
A former U-23 Liege-Bastogne-Liege winner and Lithuanian national road race champion, strongman Navardauskas has since proven himself to be a dependable team helper.
He can often be seen selflessly riding at the front of the peloton for kilometres on end in an effort to bring back a breakaway or shelter his team leaders, one of whom is Ireland's Dan Martin.
A strong time-triallist, Navardauskas has also helped Garmin Barracuda become one of the top team time-trial squads in the world, and yesterday his selfless team riding was rewarded with the biggest prize of his professional career, the pink jersey of the Giro d'Italia, after the American-based team won the stage four team time-trial in Verona.
Four years after the staunchly anti-doping American team announced their presence with victory in the opening team time-trial at the Giro, yesterday Garmin Barracuda were fastest over the 33km course by a margin of five seconds over the Katusha squad, with Astana third at 22 seconds.
Race leader since day one, Taylor Phinney finally succumbed to injuries picked up in crashes on Sunday and Monday and his BMC team lost 31 seconds as they tried to nurse him to the finish.
By the end of the stage, the young American had dropped to fifth overall.
"I didn't have anything today," a clearly disappointed Phinney said. "I knew pretty early on that something wasn't right.
"I don't know if it was the crashes or what but the team waited for me a couple times. I have to thank them, because they could have left me behind but they brought me to the finish.
"I'm upset, there's not much else to say. I didn't have any power."
Navardauskas only took over Phinney's pink jersey by virtue of the fact that his better-placed team-mate Alex Rasmussen couldn't stick the pace that his Garmin team were setting during the stage.
Navardauskas was next best-placed overall of the team and now leads the Giro by 10 seconds from team sprinter Tyler Farrar, with two more Garmin Barracuda riders -- Robbie Hunter and Ryder Hesjedal -- filling the next two places on GC.
"Having Ramunas in the jersey is perfect," said a delighted Farrar.
"There's no one on our team who deserves it more than him. The amount of work he puts in for everyone else, every day... it almost makes me want to cry I'm so happy for him.
"I hope we can keep him in it for a while and then I don't know, maybe we can pass it on to Ryder (Hesjedal) or Christian (Vande Velde) or one of those guys. We'll see."
Navardauskas himself was overwhelmed on the podium and couldn't quite believe he was leading the Giro.
"I like this team," said the young Lithuanian.
"They have taken care of me last year and this year and brought me to good races. I didn't expect Vaughters to bring me to the Tour de France last year but he did.
"This year I'm at the Giro, and it's been a really good start for me up to now. We thought we could win today, but I wasn't sure if I could hang with these guys.
"They were really strong today. Everybody did a good job. I was so glad to stay with the guys because I tired in the last 10 kilometres.
"This jersey is a really big thing for me."
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