Mark Cavendish's HTC-Highroad team take Giro lead

Cavendish sips champagne
Cavendish was fourth in the standings after the opening stage

Mark Cavendish's HTC-Highroad team won the opening stage of the Giro d'Italia, a team time-trial, to put Marco Pinotti in the leader's pink jersey.

And the Manx sprinter will have his eye on a solo victory in Sunday's second stage, a 244km ride from Alba to Parma.

HTC edged out Team RadioShack by 10 seconds on the 19.3km course from Venaria Reale to Turin.

"I'm so proud of the guys today. Like a group of musketeers," said Cavendish on Twitterexternal-link as the last teams rolled in.

The Omega Pharma-Lotto, including Britain's Adam Blythe took a surprise third place, 22 seconds back, while Team Sky were ninth.

Tour de France champion Alberto Contador's Saxo Bank team finished down in eighth, 30 seconds off the pace.

Cavendish was fourth over the line, taking that place in the general classificationexternal-link after the first stage of the three-week race.

"It's a huge honour to be wearing the pink jersey but this is a victory that belongs to the whole team," said Italian Pinotti who was ninth last year.

"It was flat all the way but it wasn't an easy course, you had to be careful with the tram lines and on the corners, some of them were very difficult."

The biggest loser on the day was Russian Denis Menchov, the Giro winner two years ago, who lost 53 seconds with his Geox team finishing down in 17th.

The race, one of the three Grand Tours of the year covers 3,524 kilometres over 21 stages before concluding with an individual time-trial in Milan on 29 May.

Cavendish led his HTC-Highroad squad across the line in first place when a team time-trial kicked off the 2009 Tour of Italy, donning his first leader's jersey in a Grand Tour.

He calculates that five stages in this year's exceptionally mountainous edition should end in bunch sprints but, with a big season ahead, is targeting individual stage wins rather than the event's points jersey.

"If you don't get at least one stage win in a major tour, then you've failed," he said on the eve of the race.

"I'm in solid shape, though I'm not as good as I'll be at the Tour de France."

Cavendish is not the only rider from the Isle of Man taking part this year, with Peter Kennaugh making his Grand Tour debut with Team Sky.

Briton Russell Downing is also making his Grand Tour debut for Team Sky, a nine-man squad led by Sweden's Thomas Lofkvist.

The other two Britons taking part are 21-year-old Blythe from Sheffield and Scot David Millar (Team Garmin-Cervelo).

Blythe, who in 2008 left the British academy set-up which produced the likes of Cavendish and Kennaugh to pursue a road career in Belgium, will be a free agent at the end of the current season.

Omega Pharma and Lotto are set to go their separate ways and Blythe - who hopes to be part of the GB squad for the World Championships in September - will be seeking a new employer, with Team Sky monitoring the Briton.

"It's a good team, they're producing a lot of good riders," he said before the start. "It's for them to show interest in me. They have done a little bit, which is good. I'll keep them in my mind."

Defending champion Ivan Basso is missing the Giro to focus on the Tour de France but Contador - currently under investigation for doping - and Menchov, winners in 2008 and 2009 respectively, are on the start list.

Contador is only the fifth rider in history - and the first Spaniard - to have won all three major Tours and he will bid for his sixth Grand Tour in five years this month.

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