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Columbia wins time trial

VENICE, Italy -- Lance Armstrong was satisfied with the start of his first major race since winning his seventh consecutive Tour de France in 2005.

Armstrong's Astana squad finished third in the team time trial Saturday to start the Giro d'Italia -- cycling's most important race after the Tour. Only two American-owned teams -- Columbia-High Road and Garmin-Slipstream -- were faster.

"Those guys are specialists," Armstrong said. "All in all, we have to be very pleased."

British sprinter Mark Cavendish crossed the line first for Columbia and took the leader's pink jersey in the race that ends May 31 in Rome.

Columbia covered the 12.7-mile route along the Lido beach front in 21 minutes, 50 seconds. Garmin was six seconds back and Astana was 13 seconds behind.

"I felt all right for an old man," said Armtrong, who is 37 and recovering from a broken collarbone. "Yeah, I think we're pleased with that, considering the amount of preparation we put into it, which was minimal but as much as we could."

Armstrong, riding in his first Giro, crossed the line first for Astana and is 15th in the overall standings.

Columbia and Garmin don't have any aspirations for overall victory. While Armstrong has said he also doesn't have any designs on winning, he and teammate Levi Leipheimer are higher in the standings than any other pre-race favorites.

Italian overall favorites Ivan Basso, Damiano Cunego, Danilo Di Luca and Gilberto Simoni each lost time to Armstrong and Leipheimer.

"I know they're behind us, but it's a long race and those boys know what they're doing," Armstrong said. "They have their moments picked out."

Before he retired for 3½ years, Armstrong's U.S. Postal and Discovery Channel squads used to excel at team time trials.

"But now there's more specialists for this event," Armstrong said on the ferry to Lido before the start. "Look at Garmin, they've been in training camp, they've been studying the course and spending a lot of time on it. It's hard to beat that. We rode together for the first time two days ago and we never saw the course.

"It's just a question of priorities. That's their priority and our priority is what happens in a week or two weeks or three weeks."

Garmin, which won this event to start off last year's Giro, held a team time-trial training camp in Spain last week and has seven specialists. The American squad had only five riders together when it crossed the finish. All nine members of Columbia finished together.

"There's a lot of talent and they work well together. That's really the hallmark of the team," Columbia owner Bob Stapleton said. "We've won 20 races this year with 10 different riders and 85 last year with 19 different riders, so everybody brings their best."

Armstrong returned to competition this season but broke his collarbone in March.

"It's nice to be on the starting ramp and nice to be with the guys," he said. "I'm having fun. I was having fun in the early season and I'm having fun today, and we're going to continue to have fun. It's a win-win for me. We'll just keep it up and see how it goes."

Armstrong took turns at the front with Leipheimer, Chris Horner and Janez Brajkovic, Astana's other time-trial specialists.

"Always been one of my favorites, ever since I was a junior doing the world championships in Moscow," Armstrong said, referring to the time-trial format. "It was an event that I always did throughout my career, so I like it."

Stage 2 Sunday is a mostly flat 97-mile route from Jesolo to Trieste that sets up well for sprinters. After one more flat stage, the race will hit the mountains.

Riders such as Cunego have indicated they will attack early before Armstrong regains his form later in the race.

"I fully expect them to be aggressive in those early stages," Armstrong said. "I fully expect to lose time. There's no question in my mind that I'll lose minutes. I've never seen those climbs. ... But if I were them, I would be thinking about Levi, not me."