Five days into his Grand Tour career, Filippo Ganna already has two Giro d'Italia stage wins to his name, demonstrating his ability to ride fast uphill and down dale in the process. For his next trick, the Italian must downplay expectations in his home country, which have seemed to rise exponentially with each success in recent weeks.
A dominant winner of Saturday's opening time trial in Palermo, Ganna suddenly had the freedom to chase stage victory in the mountains of Calabria on Wednesday following the abandon of Ineos Grenadiers leader Geraint Thomas the previous morning.
Ganna's weight and height – "82 or 83kg and 1.92m" he confirmed – hardly made him the favourite to drop his fellow escapees on the 25km haul up the Valico Monte Scuro, but he chose his moment sagely, hanging tough on the steepest section and then punching clear as the gradient eased in the final 4km of the climb.
He had a minute or so in hand in the chasers at the summit and he managed his advantage on the rain-soaked descent into Camigliatello Silano to claim victory on stage 5.
On RAI's Processo alla Tappa programme afterwards, Ganna appeared via hologram as a physically distanced, 'virtual' guest, shimmering on screen as though arriving in the transporter aboard the Enterprise. He had barely taken his virtual seat when he was asked if might one day boldly go and win a Grand Tour.
"Let's wait, dai. We'll continue with my programme," said Ganna, whose career has been built around the Tokyo Olympics even since before he turned professional in 2017. "Once the programme is finished, we'll see what else to do and that's fine, thanks."
A world champion in the time trial, a world record holder on the track and a Paris-Roubaix winner as an amateur, Ganna had already given repeat demonstrations of his aptitude as a rouleur.
Now, it seems that the Verbania native has the potential to climb, despite his frame. In his post-stage press conference, Ganna politely batted away a similar question about his limits as a rider, insisting that he still needed time to develop and find his niche.
"I haven't been a pro very long," said Ganna. "Everybody has riders like Remco in mind, who started winning WorldTour races straightaway. But there are also people who need maybe four years to adapt. Congratulations to him for managing to do it straightaway. Unfortunately, I needed a bit of time and the team has given me space, too."
'Geraint sent me a message to go in the break'
Ganna arrived at this Giro with two stated objectives: win the opening time trial in the rainbow jersey and then help Geraint Thomas win the maglia rosa. The first target was met in Palermo, but the second was undone by a stray bidon in the neutralised zone in Enna on Monday. Following Thomas' abandon, Ineos were compelled – as at the Tour de France – to recalibrate their race.
"Yesterday, Geraint sent me a message telling me to go in the break, so I respected the captain's orders," Ganna grinned, though the orders had also come from manager Dave Brailsford before the stage. "Dave gently asked us to go in the break today and try to win. I think I made him happy."
On the same day that more uncomfortable details of the dynamic at Team Sky were emerging at Dr. Richard Freeman's General Medical Council tribunal in Manchester, Brailsford was perhaps keen to garner success for his new sponsor. Ganna, certainly, seemed keen to pay tribute to his team, even kissing the badge in the manner of a striker in front of the curva as he celebrated his stage victory.
"There are lots of champions to learn from at Ineos," said Ganna, who paid particular tribute to his fellow countryman Salvatore Puccio, who was alongside him in the day's original eight-man breakaway.
"I have to say thanks to him. He was giving me advice all day: when to eat, when to drink, not to pull too hard. He's not a leader for the GC but he's a real captain in our team. He's almost a brother as much as a teammate. It's my first Giro but he always has a kind word for me. Staying calm is sometimes more important than having strong legs."
Ganna demonstrated both qualities on the final climb on a sodden afternoon in the dark hills of Calabria, where Autumn already seemed resolutely in place. Lotto Soudal's Thomas De Gendt and Movistar neo-pro Einer Rubio bridged up to the break on the Valico Monte Scuro, but then became engaged in their own private duel, exchanging accelerations and marking one another. Despite the unsuitable terrain, Ganna managed to eke out an opportunity.
"I'm 83kg, so it's not easy for me to climb," he said. "But in the end, I did a time trial to the finish."
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