Two weeks after the curtain fell on Team Ineos Grenadiers’ disastrous bid for an eighth Tour de France win, the British squad could not have had a more promising start to this year’s Giro d’Italia, with Flippo Ganna taking the pink leader’s jersey and Geraint Thomas gaining significant time on almost all his rivals.
Fourth in the recent UCI Road World Championships time trial and a winner three years ago of the opening 14km Tour de France time trial in Cologne, Thomas was widely predicted to be the general classification rider who’d benefit the most from the Giro's opening race against the clock in Palermo.
That forecast was 100 per cent correct, with Thomas taking fourth place. But with the notable exception of Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott), who only lost 26 seconds, the gaps to the remaining overall contenders were big enough to elevate Thomas’ status to the man to beat in the 2020 Giro d'Italia.
Beyond Yates, the gaps between Thomas and the rest of the pre-race contenders have yawned out to 57 seconds on Alexander Vlasov (Astana Pro Team), 1:05 on Wilco Kelderman (Sunweb), 1:06 on Vincenzo Nibali (Trek-Segafredo), 1:21 on Steven Kruijswijk (Jumbo-Visma) and 1:24 on Jakob Fuglsang (Astana Pro Team). As for Rafal Majka (Bora-Hansgrohe), the way the last man to finish the course crossed the line said it all - shaking his head in dissatisfaction, 1:37 down on Thomas.
Speaking before almost all the other favourites had finished, but with a time just one second short of João Almeida (Deceuninck-QuickStep) - who may yet take on contender status - Thomas said he knew he had ridden well.
“It was windy but I think I was quite comfortable on the bars, pretty solid, so that was a bonus,” Thomas said afterwards.
“Maybe I just attacked, I was a bit too aggressive to start with, in the last two kilometres I started losing the legs a bit which was a shame because there was a bit more of a headwind there. I definitely emptied the tank though.”
If the result was an encouraging one, his rivals will take scant comfort in the thought it could have been even better for the Welsh veteran. According to Thomas, he erred on the side of caution on the corners, having seen how quite a few riders had crashed.
The speed of a mostly downhill, non-technical course - “a bit like a pursuit on a track”, as Thomas, who knows what velodrome racing feels like more than the majority of his rivals, put it - was exceptionally high.
It was, he agreed, his quickest time trial ever, “probably average [speed] wise and I hit 94 kilometres an hour at one point, I’ve never been that fast. It was a good hit out, a bit of a shock to the system.”
Having hit the ground running in more ways than one, Thomas’ Giro d'Italia bid has got off to an ideal start.
With Ganna in the lead, the Ineos Grenadiers' strategy is clear. They can simultaneously protect their Italian racer’s maglia rosa and Thomas’ GC interests. There is a long, long way to go to Milan. But for Thomas, this was exactly the start he wanted.
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