It was a breathless couple of opening hours to the 2020 Giro d’Italia, as a hectic, blustery downhill time trial left riders nervously waiting at the start and viewers on the edge of their seats at home.
The larger, yet still comparatively slight, time trial specialists of the peloton were set to compete for stage honours and the race’s first maglia rosa, with teams clocking top speeds above 100km/h during recons of the course.
>> Subscribe to Cycling Weekly this Autumn and save 35%. Enjoy the luxury of home delivery and never miss an issue <<
Alex Dowsett (Israel Start-Up Nation) and Victor Campenaerts (NTT) were two of the first contenders off the start ramp and drama soon erupted as Campenaerts came off his bike on a corner, the hour record holder’s chance of victory over almost as soon as it had begun.
The British time trial champion then suffered mechanical trouble and was forced into a bike change, both now out of contention as the victory went to Ineos’ Filippo Ganna, but it was Campenaerts who was scathing in his assessment of the course.
“To be honest I was very careful in the corners, I knew it was a dangerous corner and it was slippery, and I know this will not be the spot where you want to win the time trial because it’s so dangerous,” Campenaerts said of his crash after he had crossed the finish line.
“The road was full of oil, you can compare it to the roads in Mallorca. I am sure the surface was not cleaned, I am sure they could have made that effort, it’s only 15km. I am 100 per cent sure I was slow in the corner, it’s just when you pick the wrong spot, you cannot see, it is so slippery, full of oil…
“It’s disappointing but when I was on the long stretch, the super-fast bit, I was so happy I had crashed before because this section was so dangerous, almost 80km/h, full of bumps, wind…of course, I am not happy with my performance.”
Rohan Dennis (Ineos) could also be spotted shaking his head while out on the course, but was more measured in his response at the finish, having decided during his ride to not take too many risks on the first stage of team-mate Geraint Thomas’ pursuit of the overall win.
“The first climb I felt really good and on the downhill before the switchbacks,” Dennis said, then becoming more conservative as he tackled the perilous flat section where the winds really picked up. “The long straight road was too unpredictable, my bike got caught and I had to stop pedalling as I thought I was going to go across the road into the fence,” the Australian continued. “I took no risks from there, I was thinking about 21 stages, not just one.”
Yates agreed that the flat, windy section was the more treacherous section of the 15.1km route.
“It wasn’t so much a problem as the big boulevard,” Yates said after his respectable effort. “When you came down between the big buildings you got a big gush of wind which throws you.”
The likes of Dennis and Peter Sagan, the Slovakian known for his bike handling ability, refused to settle down onto their TT bars, preferring to stay safely on their uprights.
“That’s going to be the difference between the guys, who committed to the skis and who was more comfortable on the bike,” Yates said of how riders would go in the race against the clock. He was not willing to sympathise with Campenaerts, saying his misfortune was just a part of racing.
“We all did the recon, I saw it was slippy, I also slipped. Risk and reward or whatever the saying is, that was his one shot of taking the jersey here, sometimes you have to take the risk, sometimes it pays off. We all had to ride the same course.”
In terms of the debate over the potential negative effect of using disc wheels in blustery conditions, Yates added that this concern was secondary to tucking into your TT bars as to the challenge of staying upright in the wind.
“I don’t think wheels are the problem, it’s the skis which is the dangerous part, you’re really tight and squeezed, more so than the disc and the equipment you use.”
Most riders got through the stage unscathed, but Miguel Ángel López wasn’t so lucky, having been involved in a bizarre crash at the second time check and carted off to hospital in an ambulance, abandoning the race. Astana saying they will provide an update on his condition when they know more.