Liquigas hits the gas, takes Giro TTT. Nibali in pink.

Rain men Liquigas.

Who’s jumping for Giro?

Today’s 33k rain-soaked team time trial from Savigliano to Cuneo threw out some surprises, good and bad. Who has a grin on their face as they’re laying on the massage table?

First off and in first place, the Lee-Kee Gas boys, as Phil Liggett likes to pronounce it. The team of Ivan Basso and Vincenzo Nibali shook off the wet conditions and torched the course. A strong team with two contenders and the maglia Rosa on the first day in Italy. Chapeau and umbrella, boys.

Second, little Carlos Sastre and his Cervelo Test team slotted in at 5th place, keeping the veteran mountain man in the hunt. Do not count the quiet Carlos out because he’s an assassin. Come the third week of brutal mountain climbing, he’s going to show his evil side. Sastre is one of those guys who could be a hit man for some anti-terrorist swat team because he looks like the harmless guy working at the library. He ain’t, folks.

Then there’s the Karpet man, Vladimir Karpets. His team Katusha squad stunned everyone by taking fourth place, beating Garmin, HTC-Columbia and Saxo Bank — teams with bigger reputations for riding a fast team time trial. Karpets in on a roll, they floored it, baby. He’s doing his Denis Menchov imitation and so far, I’m buying it.

Then there are the squads that looked a bit water-logged. Garmin without Christian Vande Velde couldn’t pull the trigger today even with David Millar starting the day mere seconds from pink. A bitter disappointment for them. As manager Jonathan Vaughters said of Vande Velde, “losing one top rider is the same as losing 3-4 average riders.” Translation: below average time and ninth place. Ouch.

How fast can one world champion and seven non-champions go? Well, for Cadel Evans and his BMC teammates, the answer is not nearly fast enough. After setting the early fast time, eleven, count ’em, eleven teams squashed them. Uhh, Cadel is officially ticked off. When Milram beats you by 24 seconds you know there were leg issues, engines not firing. It was the MBC slow train to Cuneo, making all stops.

It reminds Twisted Spoke of the damning quote by Radio Shack’s Chris Horner. Having ridden for both men, ┬áHorner said the difference was this: Cadel creates a bubble around himself to arrive at the optimum racing form while Armstrong puts that bubble around his whole team. In other words, Lance makes his whole team rider faster.

Another happy man would be Astana’s Alexander Vinokourov. He lost his maglia Rosa today but showed he and his team are still in the mix with a sixth place. Now it’s time for the Kazak to lay low, conserve every drop of energy and hope he still has gas for week three. We’re guessing not but you never know what’s in the blood bag.

Finally, there’s near winner Team Sky and Bradley Wiggins. Twisted Spoke had already written the lead paragrpah assuming Sky would win until the Lee-Kee gas lime green machine clocked them by 13 seconds. Wiggins and Sky rode an impressive time trial — in particular road captain Roddy Hammersmythe put in several massive turns to keep Sky at warp speed.

It remains to be seen how Wiggins will fare in the back-end of the Giro. He’s already stated he has the will-power to resist any temptation to try to win the overall, preferring to save himself for the Tour de France.

Today was a show of team strength and unity. Liquigas and Cervelo made a statement. So did Evan’s BMC team. It must irritate him to no end to see his former team, the one that never gave him adequate tour support, Omega Pharma-Lotto, beat his BMC squad.

The man in the rainbow jersey is once again on his own.

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