Filippo Ganna has toggled between track and road in recent years, claiming a brace of world titles in the individual pursuit while finding his feet in the WorldTour ranks in the colours of UAE Team Emirates. It is a balancing act that will continue at least until the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, where Ganna hopes to strike gold as part of Italy's increasingly competitive team pursuit squad, while also racing on the road, probably with Team Sky, after La Gazzetta dello Sport said his move to the British team is a mere formality.
"I think it's the number one objective for me in the coming years," Ganna told Cyclingnews, refusing to confirm a move to Team Sky. "We have targeted it and we're working to do what we can together. We're hoping that in the final build-up we'll be able to do a nice block of work to get there in form."
Mixing the boards and the road is never straightforward but Ganna has something of a role model to follow in the shape of fellow countryman Elia Viviani, who claimed gold in the omnium at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games and who may very well be part of the Italian pursuit quartet in Japan, while bring a successful sprinter on the road.
A year and a half before the 2016 Games, Viviani decided to sign for Team Sky, reasoning that it was the best environment in which to combine his track and road ambitions. Ganna seems set to follow a similar build-up to Tokyo 2020 by switching to Team Sky at the end of this season. Viviani has since moved from Team Sky to Quick-Step Floors to ensure more freedom in road races but has no regrets about dividing his career between the road and track.
Ganna agreed that Viviani's commitment has served as something of an inspiration.
"We've got two different styles, obviously, because he's a sprinter and I'm a passista, a rouleur, but he has managed to be competitive on the road and the track," Ganna said. "We'll just have to see how I develop over the coming years and how I work with my team."
As well as a passion for the track, Ganna shares an agent with Viviani in the shape of Giovanni Lombardi, while La Gazzetta notes that bike brand Pinarello are especially keen for Team Sky to sign the young Italian. Pinarello supply the bikes to the Italian team pursuit unit, but Ganna currently rides a Colnago when he participates in the individual pursuit, per his contract with UAE Team Emirates.
Overcoming the odds
Ganna arrived at this week's from Glasgow, where he competed in both the team pursuit and individual time trial at the European Championships. Together with Viviani, Ganna claimed a gold medal on the track but had to settle for 12th in the time trial.
"If you can plan it well, you do both road and track. Maybe in the first race back, I lack the distance a little bit, but after a couple of races, I manage to recover and feel good in the road races too," Ganna explained.
"For Glasgow, I was actually preparing more for the time trial than the pursuit, because I felt that a few days of work on the track beforehand would be enough in that."
Italy's tradition in the team pursuit is formidable, but undeniably distant.
At every Olympic Games between Antwerp in 1920 and Mexico City in 1968, Italy won a medal in the event, including a record seven golds, but they have never been on the podium since. They bridged a 16-year gap simply by qualifying for the Rio 2016 Olympics, where they placed fifth.
Italy improved to take second and third in the team pursuit at the past two World Championships and claimed the World Cup in Pruszkow last year. It remains to be seen how much further they can go in Tokyo, particularly given their dearth of financial backing in comparison to their rivals in Great Britain, Australia and elsewhere.
Over the past year, the state of disrepair of the velodrome in Montichiari – which will remain closed until the winter at the earliest – has become something of a metaphor for the general health of Italian cycling and its structures. In recent months, Ganna and the Italian track squad have been forced to train on the storied but almost anachronistic Vigorelli track in Milan, where a lap measures some 397 metres.
"We'll see if they manage to repair the velodrome, or if we'll have another velodrome available. For the time being, we're grateful to the Vigorelli for hosting us, we'll see what comes out in the future," Ganna said.
"We don't have the pressure of having to be competitive. We'll see what we'll manage to put together to prepare for the Olympics. It's good that we've got Elia back into the squad, he could be an additional weapon for us."
After landing gold in Rio, Viviani returned his focus to the road and, since joining Quick-Step Floors, has established his place among the very elite sprinters at WorldTour level. Whatever the outcome in Tokyo, Ganna's emphasis will also surely shift away from the velodrome. With a back catalogue that includes victory in the under-23 Paris-Roubaix in 2016, he has already been pointed in the direction of the cobbled Classics during his career.
"I'm on a team that's given me the opportunity to race up here and we'll see what happens in the years to come. I'll look to come back better and better prepared every time," said Ganna.
On Sunday, the BinckBank Tour takes in some hallowed ground with its grand finale over the Muur and Bosberg, though Ganna joked that his height might limit his prospects on the hellingen of the Flemish Ardennes.
"My physique might be a bit too big for the Muur," Ganna smiled. "But then, Cancellara was a big guy too."
If you've ever wanted to know what it feels like to be part of a top-level cycling team, and to be on the ground, inside the barriers, at the Tour de France, then RUNNING WITH WOLVES will take you there. It is available to rent for $3.99 USD or buy for $6.99 USD.