Filippo Ganna is expected to extend his run of time trial victories to eight next Monday, with the 13km time trial around the Al Hudayriat Island cycling track at the UAE Tour seemingly perfect for his pursuiting skills and power.
It would be crazy to bet against Ganna winning the stage in the World Champion’s rainbow jersey. He has won every time he has ridden since the Italian national championships last summer, adding the World time trial title in Imola, the Tirreno-Adriatico time trial and all three TTs at the Giro d’Italia. The Ineos Grenadiers rider even added a rolling road race stage to Camigliatello Silano to his palmares to prove he is far more than just a chrono man.
This year he picked up where he left off, winning the hardest stage of the Etoile des Bessèges from the break and then the final time trial stage the day after. Next up is the UAE Tour as the 2021 WorldTour begins with a high-quality field that includes Chris Froome, Tadej Pogačar and Mathieu van der Poel. Race organiser RCS Sport have also made sure Ganna gets a chance to join them in the spotlight.
RCS Sport were happy to see Ganna win the opening time trial and pull on the first pink jersey at the 2020 Giro d’Italia last October, and have included a 9km time trial on stage 1 of this year’s Corsa Rosa in Turin. The final weekend of the Italian Grand Tour also seems scripted to give Ganna a great chance of success. The stage 21 time trial to Milan perfectly suits his power and prowess, while stage 20 starts in his hometown of Verbania near the Swiss border.
The stage for 2021 has been set. Now it is up to Ganna to take his opportunities and become Italy’s next cycling hero.
The Bel Paese has struggled to hold its place in the cycling world in recent years and is desperate for a new national hero. A generation of riders were lost to doping, and Vincenzo Nibali seems past his best. Fortunately, Ganna has come along to save national pride at the Giro d’Italia and he will lead Italy’s medal hopes at the Tokyo Olympics Games, targeting the time trial and the team pursuit.
“As long as I can, I hope to be able to do both,” he said of combining road racing with the track in a recent interview with the La Gazzetta dello Sport Saturday magazine.
“I hope to have another season like 2020, to have the Giro d’Italia in my legs and so be in perfect form for Tokyo, the real peak of my season.”
Ganna has dominated individual pursuit racing since 2016 but since joining Ineos Grenadiers in 2019, the 24-year-old has been transformed under the influence and mentoring of his team coach Dario Cioni and Italian national track coach Marco Villa. Ganna describes Villa as a father figure, while his Italian track teammates are ‘friends to hang out with’. Anglo-Italian Cioni applies the Ineos methodology and keeps Ganna grounded and focused.
He seemed a little lost and undervalued in his early years as a professional at UAE Team Emirates. Thanks to Pinarello wanting him on their bikes on the road as well as on the track, Ganna has seemingly unlocked his huge potential.
He has already been compared to Fabian Cancellara for the way he dominates time trials and then wins road races with solo attacks. An attempt at the Hour Record will happen sooner than later as will a return to the cobbled Classics. He has lost weight and gained confidence after the 2020 Giro d’Italia.
“The Giro d’Italia made me stronger mentally and physically and made me learn how to suffer even more. I grew a pair, as they say,” Ganna said using an euphemism.
“I’m also more confident in my ability now. I know I can compete at the highest level.”
Ganna will soon become a household name in Italy as one of just 10 Olympic athletes chosen for a Barilla pasta campaign.
His agent Giovanni Lombardi, who was Olympic champion in the points race in 1992, works with Peter Sagan and a select few other riders. They have joined forces with a major sports marketing agency in Italy to prepare for the expected Olympic success in the summer.
According to La Gazzetta dello Sport, Ganna’s estimated salary is close to €2 million and his World time trial title in Imola apparently secured him a €500,000 bonus. That could increase much more with Olympic medals around his neck.
“Filippo has huge potential because he’s strong, good looking and communicates well. People can sense he’s a nice guy. Italian cycling has been waiting for someone like him for a decade,” Sfefano Dealessi of the Deo agency said.
La Gazzetta dello Sport called Ganna ‘Rocket man’ for their cover story. He has also been dubbed ‘Top Ganna’ by the Italian media in a play on words of the jet-fighter pilot movie that starred Tom Cruise.
Born in 1996, a decade after the ‘Top Gun’ movie came out, and still only 24, Ganna admits he’s never seen Maverick and Goose in a F-14 as they jostle for top honours at the US Navy pilot school.
“People kept playing me the song but I’d actually never heard it before I was called Top Ganna. The movie is hard to find via download and so I’ve never seen it. I know that’s crazy but it’s true,” Ganna admited.
Ganna prefers to live in his own little world, a cycling world largely cut off from the outside world, the 24-hour news cycle. He posts on Instagram when training with the Italian track team or with Italian teammates Gianni Moscon and Leonardo Basso, but that is about it.
“I’m happy with my own ignorance,” he said.
Ganna is well over six-feet tall and weighs 83kg yet he is a gentle giant. His parents, especially his father who competed at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games for Italy in canoeing, have instilled discipline and respect.
“My dad always said: A train only passes once, don’t miss out on any opportunity. I wasn’t great at school and so I quickly decided which road to take in life,” he explained.
“People say I’m a little too zen. I’ve never studied mindfulness or meditation but I think I’ve simply found the peace of mind that I needed to be at my best on the bike.
“I used to waste a lot of nervous energy over thinking things, so I bought myself a notebook and now I always put my thoughts down in words during the day, stay organised and so don’t worry about things when it’s time to go to bed.”
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