Koen Bouwman (Jumbo-Visma) wore a wry smile as he drifted past the finish line on Via Dante and saw Filippo Ganna (Ineos Grenadiers) already being shepherded towards the podium to await the first pink jersey of the Giro d'Italia. The Dutchman had the dubious distinction of being Ganna's minute man in the opening time trial, and he must have known that the world champion was always likely to bridge those 60 seconds worth of distance on the rapid drop from Monreale into Palermo.
After winning the rainbow jersey in Imola a week ago, Ganna was the overwhelming favourite to add the maglia rosa to his collection in Sicily, to the extent that predicting the identity of the winner of the Giro's opening time trial seemed almost moot in recent days. Speculation, instead, centred on whether Ganna might break Rik Verbrugghe's record average speed of 58.874 kph from the 2001 Giro d'Italia 7.6km prologue in Pescara.
Ganna came remarkably close, averaging 58.831 kph over the largely downhill 15.1km course. Bouwman, for his part, seemed braced for the sonic boom when Ganna bore down upon him on Via Roma, with a little under four kilometres still to race. The Jumbo-Visma rider moved aside and watched as the jet swept past him. Then, like everyone else, he followed the contrails as best he could to the finish line.
More than 70 riders had still to finish by the time Ganna completed his time trial, but the destination of the maglia rosa was already decided. At day's end, Ganna won the stage by 22 seconds from youngsters João Almeida (Deceuninck-QuickStep) and Mikkel Bjerg (UAE Team Emirates), with Ineos teammate Geraint Thomas the best of the GC men in fourth at 23 seconds back. Despite the brevity of the course, only 24 riders managed to limit their losses on the Italian to a minute.
"It was a nice time trial, but it was also difficult," Ganna said afterwards. "I thought to ride prudently, and fortunately I had Dario Cioni in the team car to give me the most important information. He alerted me to everything, down to the last manhole cover. He was crucial. You saw that riders were falling, so you had to pay full attention."
Indeed, the day began with a warning when contender Victor Campenaerts (NTT Pro Cycling) crashed early on the descent from Monreale, and then bemoaned the state of the road surface in the flatter portion in Palermo itself. Ganna's teammate Rohan Dennis, meanwhile, confessed that he had struggled to keep command of his time trial machine with the gusting sirocco wind.
While Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) casually revealed that he had hit a top speed of 101 kph on the fastest part of the descent, Ganna explained that he had opted for – slightly, it's all relative – more caution at that point.
"My maximum speed was 92 kph. Like I said, I didn't want to take pointless risks," said Ganna.
As newly-crowned time trial world champion, and in the absence of 2019 Giro winner Richard Carapaz, Ganna was offered the chance to set off as the last man in Saturday's time trial. He and his Ineos Grenadiers team preferred to take a slot in the middle of the afternoon, citing the forecast for the wind conditions. The choice appeared to be a sage one, as evidenced by the way Thomas, who set off in the wave of riders immediately before Ganna, made significant gains on his overall rivals.
"As rainbow jersey, we should have started last, but we were allowed to change, and looking at the weather conditions, we found the best moment to start," said Ganna, who had the seventh-best time on the uphill, opening kilometre to the cathedral at Monreale.
He proceeded to average almost 70 kph on the eight kilometres of descending that followed, leaving him with the best time at the second intermediate check. He added another clump of seconds to his buffer over Bjerg and Almeida on the final run through the heart of Palermo.
"The descent was definitely the hardest part when we were going at such speed," he said. "A lot of people were having trouble steering their bikes there. I managed to keep calm and bring the bike home for a great result."
On Rai television's Processo alla Tappa analysis show, Giro director Mauro Vegni stopped short of describing Ganna's victory as his preferred outcome, but he confessed that he had been glad to have a newly-minted world champion in his race.
"I was in Imola for Ganna's impresa last week, and I have to admit that I felt a certain happiness that he was going to be wearing that jersey in the first stage," Vegni said. "It brought even more lustre to this Grande Partenza."
It also added another colour to Ganna's array of honours. In the last 12 months alone, the 24-year-old has won the Italian time trial title, and rainbow jerseys in the time trial and the pursuit, as well as setting a new world record in the pursuit. In 2021, if the Tokyo Olympic Games go ahead, he will face the luxurious dilemma of deciding between the team pursuit or the individual time trial as a target. In the more immediate future, he wears the maglia rosa on his first-ever appearance in a Grand Tour.
"Filippo, are you dreaming and do you ever want to wake up?" he was asked in the mixed zone.
"Until tomorrow, leave me in this bubble, it's fine," said Ganna, who will expect to defend his jersey on the uphill finale at Agrigento. From Monday atop Mount Etna, meanwhile, his thoughts will turn firmly to protecting the interests of Thomas.
"I hope it's a good omen for the next 20 days because, let's not forget, that we're here to support Geraint Thomas, who's aiming for overall victory," said Ganna, who smiled when asked if his Ineos team would allow him some Nutella, his preferred Piedmontese delicacy, to celebrate his pink jersey. "We're pretty thin for the start of the Giro, so maybe they'll allow us a bit for the morale for the next few days."
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