Filippo Ganna (Ineos Grenadiers) hadn’t lost a time trial in over a year so when he couldn’t overhaul the mark set by Stefan Küng in the final stage of Tirreno-Adriatico it’s no surprise that the Swiss rider and his Groupama-FDJ team had their hopes high that the day would end with the European time trial champion standing on the top step of the podium.
The 84th rider off the ramp, Küng delivered a time of 11:12 pushing Alberto Bettiol (EF Education-Nippo) out of the hot seat after putting a hefty 12 seconds into his time during the 10.1 kilometre stage. Ganna was still to come so expectations, at that point, were that it may just be a matter of keeping it warm for the world champion. However the checks while he was out on the pan-flat course by the beach in San Benedetto del Tronto opened up the doubt and Ganna ultimately came over the line five seconds short of Küng’s time.
Ganna’s result was welcomed with a clap of relief by Küng, who then watched around 70 more riders come across the line on stage 7 without getting close to his mark.
“We had time to imagine him winning because he did a great performance. He is ahead of Filippo Ganna, with similar wind conditions, which is very positive," said Groupama-FDJ coach Julien Pinot.
Then second-last rider Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) ended his growing hopes, with a time just over six seconds faster, leaving Küng stepping out of the hot seat with a disappointed shake of the head.
"When you beat the reigning World champion and you spend almost two hours in the hot seat, it's a pity to be beaten by the penultimate rider… But it's sport, there is nothing to do about it. I was beaten by a stronger Van Aert today,” said Küng.
Van Aert not only took the time-trial victory but also sealed second on the GC behind 2020 Tour de France winner, UAE Team Emirates' Tadej Pogačar.
Coming over the line ahead of Ganna on a time trial stage was no small achievement, with third place being the Italian rider’s worst time trial result since the 2019 Worlds, though it didn’t mean Küng was content with his result.
“The results of the whole team are good but we are here to win. I'm not going to settle for second place and I will do everything to be able to win the next time,” said the Groupama-FDJ rider.
“In any case, the condition is good,” said Küng. “I will take a few days to recover, but it is clear that this Tirreno is going to give me a boost. The preparation has been good so far, I think I'm ready for the Classics and I'm especially looking forward to it."
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