A week on from victory in the World Championships time trial, Filippo Ganna is 15.1 kilometres away from writing another passage in Italian cycling history when the Giro d’Italia gets underway on Saturday afternoon. The Ineos rider will wear his new rainbow bands for the first time on the start ramp in Monreale, and he is heavily favoured to don the first pink jersey on the podium in Palermo’s Piazza Castelnuovo.
37 years have passed since an Italian rider last swapped a rainbow jersey for pink at the Giro, when Giuseppe Saronni carried off the overall title nine months after the immortal fucilata di Goodwood had fired him to the world title. Ganna’s turnaround time is rather quicker due to the vagaries of a calendar redrawn amid the coronavirus pandemic. Or, as he put it to La Gazzetta dello Sport: “If somebody had told me that I’d start the Giro with the world champion’s jersey, I’d have told them to drink less…”
The Giro’s short and fast opening time trial is an early rendezvous for men with designs on overall victory in Milan, but the battle for the race’s first pink jersey seems reserved for Ganna and a select cadre of time trial specialists, including his teammates Rohan Dennis and Geraint Thomas, and Victor Campenaerts (NTT).
The constant hubbub of Palermo’s city centre traffic means that Ganna won’t sample the course on his bike until the roads are closed on Saturday morning, but he has performed a reconnaissance from the passenger seat of an Ineos team car. Although the stage is fast, and predominantly downhill, the opening 1,100 metres will see riders climb Monte Caputo to the striking Norman cathedral of Monreale, renowned for the gold-hued mosaics that garland its interior.
The gold medallist did not appear unduly concerned about the brief blast of double-digit gradients in the opening kilometre, but he warned that the subsequent descent, which incorporates two sharp hairpins at the end of the quickest section, will be pivotal.
“It was impossible to try it on the bike because of the traffic so we did the route in the car. The 18% climb is nice and hard, but I have to say that, more than the climb, you’ll need good brakes for the descent, because immediately afterwards, there are three really fast kilometres of descending,” said Ganna, winner of the Italian time trial title in August ahead of his Worlds triumph.
Even though Campenaerts readily admitted that he has only a “10 per cent chance” of beating Ganna to the pink jersey, he was bullish about his prospects of picking up seconds on the Italian in the early part of Saturday’s route, both on the early climb and the initial part of the descent.
“I ride disc brakes and weigh 68kg. On the other hand, you have Ganna who rides with rim brakes and weighs 90kg,” Campenaerts told Het Laatste Nieuws. “On a descent, I am a Fiat Panda and he is a big truck, fully loaded and with worse brakes. I can start braking much later. That should yield a number of seconds.”
In the flat and fast final 6 kilometres or so, however, the advantage seems to lie squarely with Ganna, who harnessed his prodigious power to good effect on similar terrain at Tirreno-Adriatico, when he broke Fabian Cancellara’s course record in San Benedetto del Tronto, and, of course, in Imola, where he saw off Wout van Aert to claim the world title.
Between the Worlds and the Giro, Ganna returned to his native Piedmont and finetuned his preparation by climbing to the sanctuary of Oropa. “A bit out of superstition and maybe a bit out of divine force,” Ganna told La Gazzetta.
His start time on Saturday, meanwhile, was dictated at least in part by the weather forecast. Although a feared thunderstorm is not now expected to materialise, it is anticipated that the wind might pick up for the later starters. As a result, Salvatore Puccio will the last Ineos rider to take to the start, while Ganna (14:58) and Thomas (14:36) set out in the middle of the order. Ganna’s lone time trial defeat of 2020, incidentally, came to Remco Evenepoel at the Vuelta a San Juan in January, when, unlike the Belgian, he completed his effort amid a thunderstorm.
“The good news is that the weather should be ok, so there will be less of a risk factor,” said Ganna, who will hope – and perhaps even expect – to find a pink jersey at the end of his first outing in the rainbow.