VENICE, Italy (AP) – Lance Armstrong’s Astana team finished third in the team time trial that opened the Giro d’Italia on Saturday.

Armstrong, recovering from a broken collarbone, made his debut in the race.

British sprinter Mark Cavendish crossed the line first for Columbia High Road and took the first leader’s pink jersey. Columbia finished the 12.7-mile route along Venice’s beach front in 21 minutes, 50 seconds. Garmin-Slipstream was six seconds back and Astana was 13 seconds behind the leader.

Armstrong crossed the line first for Astana, which is 21st in the overall standings.

“I felt all right for an old man,” the 37-year-old Armstrong, a seven-time Tour de France champion. “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.

“And those guys are specialists and Columbia focused on getting the pink jersey for Cavendish and maintaining it for a couple of days before the Dolomites. All in all we have to be very pleased.”

The American returned to competition this season after 31/2 years of retirement. He broke his collarbone in a cycling crash in March.

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

The fairly straight course took riders down a thin strip of land and back up with a sharp turn in the middle.

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. Cameron Meyer of Australia dropped off the back in the final kilometer.

All nine members of Columbia, also an American team, finished together.

Local controversy surrounded Cavendish crossing the line first. While the sprinter is the team’s best-known rider, local fans would have preferred Italian national time trial champion Marco Pinotti to have had the honor.

Astana started the time trial last because Alberto Contador won last year’s Giro for the squad. Contador did not enter the race this year, choosing to concentrate on the Tour de France instead.

Stage 2 is Sunday. The 97-mile route from Jesolo to Trieste is mostly flat and sets up well for sprinters.

AP-ES-05-09-09 1334EDT

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