Filippo Ganna insisted on Saturday evening that his Ineos team duties meant he would be an ephemeral maglia rosa on this Giro d'Italia, but that didn't stop the Italian from adding three seconds to his overall advantage on the road to Novara on stage 2. Indeed, he felt his domestique role demanded it.
The second of the day's intermediate sprints in Vercelli offered time bonuses to the first three men across the line, and when the early break was swept up shortly beforehand, there was suddenly a chance that some loose seconds might tumble the way of an enterprising GC contender.
Remco Evenepoel (Deceuninck-QuickStep) was, predictably, among those live to the possibility, but the indomitable Belgian was beaten to the punch by Ganna. Aided by Gianni Moscon, Ganna clipped away to pick up the maximum three seconds on offer, while Evenepoel snagged two and his teammate Iljo Keisse claimed one.
"I wanted to do the intermediate sprint to take the bonuses away from the other riders because I was thinking of the days ahead when Egan [Bernal] and Pavel [Sivakov] will be fighting for the pink jersey, nothing more than that," said Ganna, who, this year as last, has insisted that he has no designs on a long stint in pink. "I saw that Remco was trying to take the bonus, so I went for it. Gianni and I did a good job."
On the run-in through the rice fields dotted around Novara, meanwhile, Ganna reverted to a more orthodox gregario role, serving as a pilot for Bernal by guiding him beyond the 3km to go banner to ensure he came home alongside all of the other general classification contenders. Bernal lies 40th at 42 seconds, just one second behind the other outstanding pre-race favourite, Simon Yates (BikeExchange).
"I had Egan on my wheel in the finale and I tried to keep up front as much as possible," said Ganna, who now leads Edoardo Affini (Jumbo-Visma) by 13 seconds in the overall standings, with Evenepoel up to 4th at 20 seconds.
Last October, Ganna lost his lead on the stage 3 summit finish to Etna – a day that also saw a crash ruin teammate Geraint Thomas' overall challenge – but he seems likely to go at least one further this time out. After the flatlands of Vercelli and Novara on Sunday, the gruppo heads for the vineyard-blanketed hills of Monferrato and the Langhe on Monday, but the terrain should not cause Ganna undue difficulty. He stands every chance of leaving the friendly confines of his native Piedmont with the pink jersey still on his back.
"We know tomorrow is hard and it's a perfect stage for [Peter] Sagan because there's a lot of up and down, with really narrow roads. But we can try to have the jersey for another day," said Ganna, who confirmed there was at least one difference between his first and second tenures in the pink jersey.
"Last year, I can assure you that on Mount Etna there were a lot of people cheering me, but I think it was because they saw me as the maglia rosa. This year, I'm in my home region, so maybe people recognise me more as an individual."
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