Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) was the class of the field in Sunday afternoon in San Marino, putting at least a minute between himself and every other rider in the Giro d'Italia field. Every rider, that is, aside from Hour Record holder Victor Campenaerts (Lotto Soudal).
The Belgian finished the day in second place, a mere 11 seconds down on Roglič's commanding performance. But before the Slovenian stormed through the rain to take his second time trial victory of the Giro, Campenaerts spent over two hours in the hot seat, waiting for another rider to challenge his time.
"Beforehand, I said that this time trial did not suit me perfectly, and that winning wasn't possible," said Campenaerts in a team press release. "But as a time trialist, you are obliged to optimally prepare for a test against the clock and to go full gas.
"During the second Giro time trial last year, I was constantly fighting myself, but today I immediately felt that I had good legs."
Campenaerts could only finish 20th in the Giro's opening time trial, a similar test given the uphill finish. But the 12-kilometre climb to San Marino featured shallower gradients, as well as sections of false flat and descent, in contrast to the San Luca climb's double-digit inclines. As a result, a specific strategy was planned for the climb to the finish.
"The plan was to ride just below threshold until the climb and then ride above threshold; a strategy similar to the one I used during the World Championships in Innsbruck."
But even the best-laid plans can go awry, as Campenaerts found out to his cost just 1.5-kilometres from the line in San Marino. The 27-year-old pulled up with a dropped chain and was swiftly handed a replacement road bike by his mechanic – the run to the line was all uphill, after all.
That's when things started to go wrong for the European time trial champion. The chain on his Ridley Helium SLX climbing bike was set on the big ring, making it impossible to get going again on the seven per cent slopes. Campenaerts also had to rely on an onlooking fan for a push start, after his mechanic ran back to pick up his discarded time trial bike.
"As a time trialist, it is very frustrating when you get a mechanical," he said. "We did agree beforehand – if I would have a mechanical on the climb – we would change to the road bike.
"The change did not go fluently and due to the adrenaline, I was a bit frustrated after the finish. Then, I thought that there would still be five to ten general classification riders who would improve my time, but one after another, they didn't succeed."
In the end, with the stage victory decided by such a small margin in the context of the results sheet, it's likely that the bike change snafu cost Campenaerts more than 11 seconds, and therefore, a stage win in San Marino.
"I had mixed feelings then. If I would have won, the bike change would have been immediately forgotten. If not, I would be cursing. Unfortunately, it became the latter.
"Eventually, I lose the time trial with 11 seconds, so without that mechanical it would have been a victory. But those are the hard laws of the top-level sport and I have to live with that. I don't blame anyone."
But Campenaerts, whose sole victory this season came at Tirreno-Adriatico just down the Adriatic coast in San Benedetto del Tronto, still has another chance for victory at Giro. In two weeks' time, the race draws to a conclusion with a 17-kilometre time trial in Verona, on a course far more suited to the Belgian.
"The final time trial should suit me even better. I hope to survive the mountains without too many troubles and energy losses to battle for victory in Verona."
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