Turin, Italo Calvino wrote, is a city that invites rigour, linearity and style. Filippo Ganna (Ineos Grenadiers) might well agree after his victory in the opening time trial of the Giro d’Italia, where he showcased those qualities by cutting tight but assured trajectories around the early corners of the 8.6-kilometre urban course.
“We have a radio earpiece that’s only about as big as a hearing aid and once I started I couldn’t hear anything anymore, so I said to myself ‘Filippo, try to remember the corners and don’t make any mistakes, otherwise you’ll end up on the ground,” Ganna said. “I risked more than I should, but it went well. I remembered all the corners. My mind was nice and clear.”
Ganna’s mind had been clouded by some doubts in the build-up to this Giro, where he was, like last year, the outstanding favourite to win the opening time trial. On that occasion, he arrived in Palermo on a high, having been crowned world time trial champion in Imola just a week previously. This time out, three consecutive defeats against the watch had dented his confidence, as evidenced by an unusually terse press conference on Thursday morning.
“There was a bit of tension,” Ganna admitted. “The prognostics weren’t in my favour beforehand, but I wanted to win. The Tour of Romandie was good preparation but it was also a blow to my morale because I didn’t manage to bring home a result in either of the time trials and being so many seconds off the first riders hurt me a bit.
“There were some polemics and people were saying I wasn’t competitive anymore, but with maybe 70 race days in a season, you can’t be competitive all year round. Sometimes you prefer to be less ready at some events to save yourself for others.”
Ganna was among the last wave of riders to begin on Saturday, and as he rolled down the start ramp, he knew that the time to beat was that of a fellow countryman and friend, Edoardo Affini (Jumbo-Visma). He was 1.7 seconds quicker than Affini at the intermediate check after 3.8km and he extended that advantage after crossing the Po and hurtling onto Corso Moncalieri.
Come the finish line in the shadow of the neoclassical church of Gran Madre, Ganna was fully 10 seconds clear of Affini and his average speed was an eye-watering 58.784kph, which fell only fractions shy of the Giro record set by Rik Vebrugghe on the corresponding stage in 2001, when the Belgian was buffeted by a tailwind on the seafront in Pescara.
“Let’s say getting back to winning is nice, especially when you’ve had some bad time trials beforehand,” he said.
In winning the opening time trial of the Giro in successive years, Ganna emulates the feat of Francesco Moser, who was the first maglia rosa in both 1984 and 1985. Moser, of course, enjoyed success on track and road during that remarkable spell, smashing the Hour Record in Mexico as well as winning Milan-San Remo and claiming overall victory in the Giro.
Ganna has no overall aspirations at this Giro – “We have team leader 1 in Egan Bernal and 1A in Pavel Sivakov” – but, like the Sheriff, he has designs on landing multiple and diverse prizes in rapid succession. After the Giro, Ganna will turn his attentions towards preparing for the Olympic Games, where he will line out in both the team pursuit and the individual time trial, but he dismissed the idea that he was stretching himself too thinly by chasing such disparate goals.
“No, but every now and then you journalists put the pressure on,” said Ganna. “I did a big block of work on the track before the Tour de Romandie, and maybe I would have been more competitive there if I hadn’t done that – but I want this challenge of going to the Olympics and trying for two gold medals. I want to try it, and I believe in my possibilities.”
In the here and now, Ganna finds himself precisely where he did at this point on the 2020 Giro. Back then, he conceded the maglia rosa on the first summit finish at Mount Etna on stage 3, and he envisaged a similar fate here, perhaps at Sestola in three days’ time. No matter, his primary role on this Giro is to shepherd Bernal and Sivakov, who lost 38 and 34 seconds, respectively, on Saturday.
“We have two captains so the priority goes to them,” Ganna said. “I know I’ll lose the jersey at the first summit finish, and I’ll suffer a lot, but I know I’m here to support the team, and to keep the morale high.”
Ganna and Ineos will hope for a repeat of last October, where he helped himself to four stages and the team scored a surprise overall victory through Tao Geoghegan Hart. This Giro has begun with a certain sense of déjà vu.
“The jersey seems pinker this time,” Ganna joked. “I’m happy to have it on my shoulders. I wanted it even more this time than I did last year, and it gives me a bit of morale for the Giro. If I’d lost, I’d have been a bit down for the next few days, but this helps a lot for the next 20 stages.”
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