Filippo Ganna handles the pressure to claim victory
It’s becoming increasingly clear that Filippo Ganna (Ineos Grenadiers) is the new big thing in time trialing. Last week he won the World Championships with a stunning ride nearly half a minute better than his nearest challenger, Wout van Aert. And now today, on his first-ever appearance at a Grand Tour, he again claimed victory with another domineering ride.
The 24-year-old has shown huge promise in recent years, beginning his career with multiple junior and under-23 national time trial titles, before making his breakthrough on the road last season with a first win at WorldTour level at the BinckBank Tour and bronze at the senior World Championships.
Expectations heading into today’s stage were huge. The talk wasn’t so much about whether he would win the stage, but rather whether he would capitalise on the very fast, mostly downhill route to break the record for fastest ever time trial at a Giro d’Italia.
Though he fell short of Rik Verbrugghe’s 2001 record by a few fractions of a second, Ganna’s victory proved that he was capable of handling pressure. He’ll now wear the pink jersey for tomorrow’s stage in eastern Sicily, a proud moment for any Italian.
A good day for both British pink jersey contenders
Talk before the stage was of a Giro d’Italia set to be contested between two British riders, Geraint Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers) and Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott), and the times both set on the opening time trial suggests that that might end up being the case.
Thomas’ time was easily the best of the GC contenders. “Pretty satisfied” is how he described feeling about his ride upon finishing it, but he ought to be delighted with the gains he made over his pink jersey rivals, most of whom were over a minute slower.
The only possible pink jersey contender who limited his losses to less than that was Simon Yates. Yates, who tends to lose time against the clock, described the downhill parcours as “the worst time trial I could ever imagine,” so will also be very happy to have only lost 26 to Thomas, and to have gone quicker than pretty much all the riders outlined as probable GC contenders.
It may be that both riders benefited from the changing direction and strength of the wind (more on that below), but both times suggest they’re on flying form
Other GC contenders lose time in windy conditions
Whereas Thomas and Yates set off earlier in the day, most of the other big names waited until towards the end of the stage — a decision they may now regret.
In blustery conditions like this, the weather can make for a huge variable in time trials. Ride when it calms down and you won't be badly affected; but if your ride coincides with an intensifying of the conditions, or a disadvantageous change in direction, then the time you’re able to post will be severely hindered.
That appeared to be what happened today. Wilco Kelderman (Sunweb), Jakob Fuglsang (Astana), Vincenzo Nibali (Trek-Segafredo), Steven Kruijswijk (Jumbo-Visma) and Rafał Majka (Bora-Hansgrohe) were all among the last to start, and all finished way behind Thomas. Of those riders Majka was the worst affected, losing two minutes to Thomas, but even those who limited their losses the best, Kelderman and Nibali, conceded 1-05 and 1-06 respectively.
Given that they were able to choose what time in the day to set off from the start ramp, the decision by all of them to leave it until late could be considered a major tactical blunder.
With two more time trials to come, where Thomas will be expected to take yet more time out of them, the others have a lot of work to do if they’re to make the time back, starting with stage three’s summit finish at Mount Etna.
Young riders excel
2020 has been a year of young riders excelling, and the top of the classification today was full of fresh faces posting very fast times.
Behind Filippo Ganna — who is himself only 24 — was 22-year-old João Almeida, who finished second with a time that was 22 seconds slower. The Portuguese rider has already made a name for himself this season with strong showings in the hills and mountains at stage races like Vuelta a Burgos, Tour de l’Ain and Settimana Coppi e Bartali, but this was arguably his best performance yet, and certainly the most high-profile. Though aided by the easier conditions at the start of the day, it’s still a very eye-catching time, and he’ll be one to watch for the rest of this Giro.
In third place was Mikkel Bjerg (UAE Team Emirates), a 21-year-old who, like Ganna, was making his Grand Tour debut. Given his performance today, and the fact that he's already a three-time under-23 time trial world champion, he and the Italian could potentially form a fearsome rivalry over the years to come.
And in fifth place, eight seconds behind Thomas in fourth, was 23-year-old Tobias Foss (Jumbo-Visma). The Norwegian is a major talent, and his Grand Tour has been hotly anticipated ever since he won the overall at the Tour de l’Avenir last year. Keeping in mind the fates of the previous winners of that race — Tadej Pogačar in 2018, and Egan Bernal in 2017 — his success today could be the first of many at Grand Tour level.
Seemingly dangerous roads cause crashes
Rider safety has been one of the major issues this season. With several hugely concerning incidents, especially those involving Fabio Jakobsen at the Tour of Poland and Remco Evenepoel at Il Lombardia, there has been much concern raised in the peloton about the conditions they’ve had to race in.
It was disappointing, therefore, to see the Giro d’Italia begin with such an apparently dangerous time trial.
The road surface looked dodgy, and seemed to lead to crashes. Most notably of all, Astana’s Miguel Ángel López had to be rushed to hospital in an ambulance after hitting a bump in the road and falling hard.
Hour Record holder Victor Campanaerts (NTT Pro Cycling), who himself fell on a right turn going downhill, had scathing words for the organisers. “The road is full of oil...I am sure the surface was not cleaned. I am sure they could have made that effort.”
There will likely be an inquest in the aftermath of the stage as to why they were expected to ride on such unsafe roads.