Prologue: Verbrugghe sets record pace, takes pink jersey

PESCARA, Italy (AP) - Belgium's Rik Verbrugghe, pedaling at a wind-aided record average speed of 58.874 kmh (36.501 mph), on Saturday led the time test prologue of the Giro d'Italia to claim the pink jersey of overall leader in the Italian cycling race.

The 27-year-old Belgian cyclist covered the 7.6-kilometer (4.7-mile) distance in this Adriatic port city in seven minutes, 44.7 seconds, beating second-place Dario Frigo of Italy by 9 seconds.

Czech Rene Andrle had a gap of 11 seconds, in third place.

``It's a great, beautiful experience to wear the pink jersey,'' said Verbrugghe, winner of the Walloon Arrow last month.

``I'm not here to win the Giro, but I hope to hold leadership in the initial stages,'' he added, dedicating his victory to his family.

Spain's Abraham Olano, the world against-the-clock champion, trailed the winner by 19 seconds, in 8:03 minutes.

Olympic champion Jan Ulrich came in 23 seconds behind Verbrugghe while defending Giro champion Stefano Garzelli finished 36 seconds behind.

Marco Pantani, a 1998 Giro and Tour of France champion, had a gap of 49 seconds.

Verbrugghe, an against-the-clock specialist of the Lotto team, was among the early starters in the race when the wind was blowing strong - mostly in favor of the cyclists.

Wind slowed down nearly two hours later, when the leading cyclists started in the short test, prior to Sunday's first of the 21-stage cycling marathon.

Garzelli was the last of 180 starters, who all passed anti-doping blood tests hours before the prologue.

Verbrugghe's average definitely improved the previous record over short distances set by Chris Boardman in the prologue of 1994 Tour of France.

The English cyclist had set an average speed of 55 kmph (34.10 mph) over 7.2 kilometers (4.4 miles).

The first stage of the Giro on Sunday is a 202-kilometer (125.2-mile) hilly course from Giulianova to Francavilla al Mare in the southern Abruzzo region.

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