Filippo Ganna (Ineos Grenadiers) is making it look easy. Over a year has passed since he last experienced defeat in an individual time trial and his supremacy was never in doubt on stage 2 of the UAE Tour.
The world champion averaged some 55.9kph in the 13km test to beat Stefan Bisseger (EF Education-Nippo) by 14 seconds, with only two other riders finishing within half a minute of his time.
A combination of Remco Evenepoel and unfavourable wind conditions consigned Ganna to his last defeat against the watch at the Vuelta a San Juan in January 2020, but he has since racked up eight consecutive victories against the watch, a sequence that includes a world title and all three time trials at last October’s Giro d’Italia.
Ganna began the new season in similar fashion, winning the individual time trial at Étoile de Bessèges just 24 hours after he had soloed to victory on the final road stage. He arrived in the United Arab Emirates as the overwhelming favourite to win Monday’s stage at Al Hudayriat Island and he duly fulfilled expectations, even if he insisted it wasn’t as straightforward as it seemed.
“Every time, it’s a different race and it’s not easy to win,” Ganna said afterwards. “With this jersey on the shoulders, it’s not easy. In every time trial, people think that you’ll win easily with the rainbow jersey, but it’s not like that. It’s really difficult to have to confirm it every time. Today is another one, another good performance, and we hope it will help me for the last stage at Tirreno-Adriatico and give me good sensations for the future races.”
Ganna is set for a busy 2021 season as he toggles between road and track between now and the Tokyo Olympics. He is set to return to the Giro, where he will be favourite for the opening time trial in Turin, and he is planning to compete in both the individual time trial and team pursuit in Japan before he tries to defend his rainbow jersey in Flanders in September.
“I’m also really happy also to see my parameters. I’m not 100 per cent in condition yet, but I’m working very well,” he said. “I’m going step by step and hopefully I can keep this [rainbow] jersey again in September.”
In the here and now, Ganna will be pressed into duty on behalf of his new Ineos teammate Adam Yates, who is the defending champion at the UAE Tour. Yates was the only Ineos rider who made the front group when the peloton split in crosswinds on stage 1, and thus the team’s only viable option in the overall standings. The Briton is 5th overall after stage 2, 39 seconds down on new race leader Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates).
Ganna said that Ineos had been caught out while trying to pace one of their leaders back to the peloton shortly before the bunch split on Sunday.
“We were stopped for a rider and we saw the whole bunch in one line, and I thought, ‘Ok, now we have a little problem.’ Luckily Adam was in the front for us and helped to save the GC. We hope in the next stage to go step by step and why not end up on the last day with the jersey for him like last year,” said Ganna.
The GC picture at the UAE Tour is likely to be decided by the two summit finishes, to Jebel Hafeet on Tuesday and to Jebel Jais on Thursday. Ganna suggested the team would be devoted to protecting Yates on stage 3.
“We have Yates to help and to stay as close as possible to him, because the climb is in the finish and we know there could be a hard moment during the stage, like crosswind or a crash and we need to stay close to him,” Ganna said.