Savoldelli wins Giro d'Italia time trial

Updated: May 6, 2006, 3:21 PM ET

SERAING, Belgium -- Defending champion Paolo Savoldelli started his 33rd birthday celebrations a day early with victory in the opening time trial stage of the Giro d'Italia.

The Discovery Channel rider set a time of seven minutes and 50 seconds for the hilly 6.2-km course around Seraing in Belgium on Saturday.

Australia's Bradley McGee was second, 11 seconds slower and Jose Enrique Gutierrez of Spain was third.

"It's a good way to start the Giro and a good way to celebrate my birthday," Savoldelli told reporters.

"Courses like this suit me but I'm still a bit surprised to have won. There weren't many corners and I made the difference on the climb in the middle."

"My team told me I was 10 seconds up at the top but I didn't really believe them and only knew I'd won after I'd crossed the line," added the Italian, who also won the race in 2002.

The Giro is expected to be a battle between Savoldelli and compatriots Danilo Di Luca, Ivan Basso, Damiano Cunego and two-times winner Gilberto Simoni.

Di Luca was 10th, 19 seconds slower than Savoldelli, Basso was 13th, Cunego was 15th and Simoni was 16th, 26 seconds adrift.

"I dreamed of winning this stage but thought it'd be close and decided by a second or two," Savoldelli said.

"It wasn't a course for a time trial specialist because of the climb and I knew the climbers and overall contenders could do well. I suppose the surprise was that I went better than everybody expected."

Di Luca said: "I'm satisfied with my ride but the truth is a few seconds in the time trial doesn't really mean a lot. Everybody knows the mountain stages will make this a hard Giro."

Basso said: "It was a difficult prologue and I thought I'd do a bit better.

"It's only the first stage and so I'm not worried. I know I've worked hard to be at my best for the Giro, so we'll see what happens later in the race."

Savoldelli will wear the race leader's pink jersey during Sunday's 197-km second stage from Mons to Charleroi but made it clear he would not try and defend the lead so early in the three-week race.

"Winning on the first day is good for my and the team's morale but the time bonuses [20, 12 and eight seconds] awarded to the first three riders on each road stage mean it's easy to lose the lead," he said.

"There is a long way to go before we get to Milan but hopefully I'll get it back before then."

After the opening four stages in Belgium, the Giro transfers to Italy on Wednesday and ends in Milan on May 28.