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Giro d’Italia: Ganna prepared to pass pink jersey to Geraint Thomas on Mount Etna

AGRIGENTO ITALY OCTOBER 04 Start Filippo Ganna of Italy and Team INEOS Grenadiers Pink Leader Jersey Santuario Maria SS DellAlto Alcamo Village during the 103rd Giro dItalia 2020 Stage 2 a 149km stage from Alcamo to Agrigento 243m girodiitalia Giro on October 04 2020 in Agrigento Italy Photo by Tim de WaeleGetty Images
Filippo Ganna of Team INEOS Grenadiers in Pink Leader Jersey at start stage 2 (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

The celebration at the hotel in Isola delle Femmine on Saturday evening was called "something very sober" by Filippo Ganna. The first maglia rosa of the 2020 Giro d’Italia gathered his Ineos Grenadiers teammates and staff outside the Saracen Sands Hotel in the carpark – physical distancing had it so – when he returned from his media duties at the stage finish in Palermo.

“We have 20 stages – well, 19 now – ahead of us and we can’t exaggerate,” Ganna said after successfully defending his jersey in Agrigento on stage 2. “We toasted together as a team in the carpark of the hotel and we congratulated one another. Geraint [Thomas] said he was proud of me and I have to say I’m just as proud to have a leader like that and a team like this to support me.”

Ganna’s superiority brooked no argument in Saturday’s predominantly downhill time trial from Monreale to Palermo, where the world champion in the discipline swooped along the 15.1km course more than 1.5 kph quicker than everyone else. He held his ground well on the short climb to Agrigento on stage 2, finishing safely in the main peloton, though he downplayed the idea that he had been tempted to try to follow the accelerations of stage winner Diego Ulissi (UAE Team Emirates), et al, in the finale.

“It’s always nice to win, and with the pink jersey on your back it would have been spectacular but I was a bit closed in,” Ganna said. “I was thought it was better to keep the skin on my back than risk leaving it on the road by crashing. It was hard to keep the jersey today, because the finish wasn’t suited to my characteristics.”

The Italian is well aware, of course, that he risks losing the jersey off his back on Monday, when the Giro makes an early entry into the high mountains with the haul up Mount Etna, an obstacle that would have come two days later had the Giro started in Budapest as originally planned. The 18.5km haul from Linguaglossa to Piano Provenzana is reputedly not as demanding as the side tackled by the Giro two years ago, but still more difficult than the climb to Rifugio Sapienza that was used in the race in 2017.

Ganna’s physique is hardly that of a climber – the 24-year-old is 1.94m tall – but he did demonstrate an aptitude for long, shallow climbs at the Vuelta a San Juan in January, where he placed sixth on the Alto Colorado en route to second place overall. The Giro in October is, of course, a very different kind of test, and his overall lead is just 22 seconds over João Almeida (Deceuninck-QuickStep).

“For me, Etna is long - it’s never-ending. It will be an important climb for the general classification, and I’ll be there to support Geraint Thomas, who has shown already that he has fantastic legs,” said Ganna, who will hope to pass the jersey to the Welshman, who lies just 23 seconds off the lead after placing fourth in Saturday’s opening time trial.

“If I have to lose the jersey, let’s hope it stays with Ineos. From tomorrow, I’m in the service of Geraint, and I’d only be happy if he takes the jersey.” 

Indeed, Ganna’s devotion to the cause is such that he suggested he will not target the Valdobbiadene time trial on stage 14, preferring instead to save his legs to use them on Thomas’ behalf on the road to Piancavallo 24 hours later.

“I’ll have to be ready for Geraint the next day,” said Ganna, who smiled when asked to describe his state of mind after a weekend that saw him add the maglia rosa to the rainbow jersey he won in Imola scarcely a week ago. 

“Happy,” he said. “And aware I’ve done something big for Italian cycling.”