As expected, he came, he saw, and he conquered. Before the Giro d'Italia had even reached San Marino, Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma) had been all but crowned as the winner of the stage 9 time trial on the Giro d'Italia.
"Primoz will kill them," European time trial champion Victor Campenaerts said of his former teammate on the eve of the stage. From the camps of men like Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) and Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott), the most optimistic talk revolved around limiting their losses to anything under a minute.
In the event, Campenaerts came closest to denying Roglic the honours, and were it not for an untimely mechanical problem and slow bike change near the finish, the Belgian would surely have won the stage rather than settling for second place at 10 seconds.
"I feel sorry for him. We were all competing for the win. We all went full gas, but you always need some luck to win," Roglic said, though it should be noted that Campenaerts was among the early starters and enjoyed dry conditions for his effort.
Bauke Mollema, who placed third at 1:00, and Nibali, who took fourth at 1:05, could look on their showings with some satisfaction, but for the rest of the pre-race favourites, this was a chastening afternoon. Mikel Landa (Movistar) lost 3:02, Yates conceded 3:10 while Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana) was 3:44 adrift.
In the overall standings, Roglic moves up to second, 1:50 down on maglia rosa Valerio Conti (UAE Team Emirates), but with an increased buffer over all of his rivals to wear that precious tunic in Verona in two weeks' time. He now has 1:44 on Nibali, 1:55 on Mollema and 3:46 on Yates. Lopez and Landa are already 4:29 and 4:52 down, respectively. All this before the Giro has even reached an altitude of 1,000 metres.
"It's still better to have some advantage than a disadvantage, but there's a long way to go," Roglic said afterwards when he was quietly insistent that men like Yates and Lopez were in no way out of the reckoning for final overall victory.
"I don't think so. As we saw, a lot of things can happen. It's not over until the finish line in Verona. As long as people are still in the race, anything can happen. I'll just try to control the things I can control."
Roglic certainly had a firm command of his pacing on the 34km road from Riccione to San Marino. The late starters set off amid heavy rain, meaning that the Slovenian was loath to take any undue risks on the slippery roads in the opening kilometres, preferring to spare himself for the finale, a 12km haul uphill from Faetano to the microstate above.
"When I did the recon I did the first part faster in the corners but when I started the time trial, it was wet so I took no risks," Roglic explained. "After 10km, on the flatter part, I tried to push harder. Then I hit the climb and tried to go as fast as possible. I went quite carefully on the first part with the rain and the corners, and then tried to make a difference on the hard parts."
Roglic's account is corroborated by the time splits. After 11.7km, he had the 6th best time, 33 seconds down on Campenaerts. He was 17 seconds slower than the Belgian over the middle third of the course, but then took flight on the climb towards the finish, where he put 27 seconds into Nibali and a remarkable 2:23 into a visibly struggling Yates.
While Conti wears the pink jersey as the Giro breaks for its first rest day, Roglic has reaffirmed his position as the race's de facto leader. The topography has been relatively gentle to this point, but after the Giro caravan crosses the Rubicon south of Ravenna ahead of Tuesday's stage, it will eventually pass into more rugged terrain by the end of week two. Sunday's time trial may have run according to the anticipated script, but this race has a habit of inviting ad-libs.
"Every stage is important," Roglic said. "Every day you have to finish in the front if you're a GC guy. You see all the time there are some problems. It is nervous, it is hectic, so we need to be focused every day."
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