Giro Stage 1: The Chess Pieces are Set After a Routine Opening Time Trial
A short opening time trial produced a predictable result but sets the table for a thrilling GC battle
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Filippo Ganna scorched the 9km time trial course to win the opening stage of the Giro d’Italia with an absolutely flawless performance. His win means he will be the first wearer of the race’s leader’s jersey, the Maglia Rosa, and will give the home crowds the special experience to see an Italian rider don the leader’s jersey in their home grand tour.
In the fight for the general classification, last year’s breakout sensation João Almeida separated himself from the rest of the GC field. He finished a staggering 17-seconds back on Ganna but 21-seconds up on Simon Yates, 22-seconds up on Egan Bernal, 24-seconds on Vincenzo Nibali, and a whopping 32-seconds on Mikel Landa.
Stage 1 Race Notes:
Edoardo Affini surprises the favorites by taking the best time early in the day. I’m shocked by how high his handlebars are and how much air is presumably eating with this position. However, his Jumbo team is known to be one of the most scientific in the peloton, so I assume they’ve run the numbers and figure the extra watts he can produce make up for the poor aerodynamics.
After 266 days without racing and significant time off due to a broken pelvis, Remco Evenepoel comes out flying. Look at his extremely compact frontal area compared to Affini.
He looks great from a fitness perspective but as the stage goes on we can see that his handling is nowhere near as aggressive as Ganna. Look at his position around the corner compared to Ganna.
Going through corners, Remco is a few feet from the curb and his head is well above the height of his butt.
Meanwhile, Ganna is cutting much sharper angles by getting much closer to the curb. Also, his head is almost below his butt.
This may seem like a nitpick but this is what decides time trials, especially ones as short as this one.
While Ganna’s position isn’t as compact as Evenepoel’s (nobodies is), he marries the raw power of Affini to world-class aerodynamics better than anyone in the current peloton. His position on the bike is truly a work of art (NFT coming soon).
Stage 1 Top-Ten
Ganna absolutely crushes Affini’s time to win by 10-seconds. He averaged 59km/hr throughout the course, which is absurd.
He went really fast on the last half of the course after starting out relatively slow. At the halfway point, he was only up by 2-seconds on Affini, but pulled out an additional 8-seconds on the second half. This shows he really knows what he is doing and was extremely confident.
Ganna wins the opening stage for the second year in a row. And don’t expect him to give up the jersey anytime soon. He is good enough that he could hold it for quite a while. His poor performance at Romandie shows he was probably overextended from training and was peaking for the Giro. The sky is the limit for him when he is on great form.
Affini from Jumbo almost upsets the favorites to win the stage. This is by far the biggest result of his career and a huge improvement from the 2020 Giro, when he finished in 82nd place at the opening TT. Also, he has DNF’s five out of the six one-day races he has started this year.
The ages of the top five finishers were 24, 24, 23, 22, 25, for an average of 23.6 years old. This continues the trend of winning rides getting younger and younger, but also speaks to shorter TTs favoring younger riders with greater explosive ability (the last prologue at the Tour de France back in 2015 was won by a 24-year-old Rohan Dennis).
Filtered GC Standings:
João Almeida +0
Remco Evenepoel +2
Aleksandr Vlasov +7
Domenico Pozzovivo +14
Pavel Sivakov +17
Hugh Carthy +21
Simon Yates +21
Egan Bernal +22
Vincenzo Nibali +24
Jai Hindley +29
Mikel Landa +32
Emanuel Buchmann +38
Almeida emerges from the stage as the winner out of the GC field and almost more importantly, his DQS team. By beating Evenepoel, he keeps his leadership status alive and gives himself a great chance to take the Maglia Rosa on stage 4.
Staying ahead of Evenepoel is key since Almeida is allegedly feuding his team management over a new contract, and the fact that they kept him off the Tour squad, a race that would suit him much better, shows there is some friction inside the squad and that the team will favor Evenepoel if push comes to shove.
Vlasov is the other big winner. The Russian is a supremely talented climber, so putting time into the others in the TT is incredible. However, he is incredibly inconsistent, which is doesn’t necessarily improve with age or experience.
The other young Russian, Siakov, also has a great TT and now is the best-placed Ineos rider. I was the president of the Siakov and Vlasov Fanclub in 2020 before both of them went on to have incredibly disappointing grand tour performances, so I’m going to hold off on declaring the race for one of them just yet. A key issue is that both of them struggle with handling skills, which is incredibly important in Italy. But, keep an eye on them as we get into the first-week uphill finishes.
Evenepoel has a great ride after a long layoff and throws his hat in the GC ring. While he has proved his fitness is great, at least over short distances, keep in mind that he’s never raced a grand tour before in his career and doesn’t even have experience racing in the high Alps in a WorldTour race, so we really have no idea how he will go or if he is even a great climber. The closest comp we have is Tour of Romandie in 2019 and he didn’t perform well there on the high mountain passes.
His fitness could be there, but these are just a lot of unknowns for a grand tour hopeful. If he were to win the race, he would become the first rider in modern cycling history to win their first-ever grand tour.
Pozzovivo gets a shockingly good result at only 14-seconds behind Almeida. The small Italian is a great climber, especially in Italy, but his TTs have held him back his entire career. He is flying way, way under-the-radar, but keep an eye on him when the race hits the bigger mountains.
I would lump Bernal, Carthy, Yates, and Nibali into the same bucket and say they had about as good of days as they could hope for. Nibali looked good considering he is racing with a broken wrist and Bernal looked strong considering the rumors of a flareup with his chronic back injury.
But remember, all of these guys lost around 2.2 seconds per kilometer to Almeida. That isn’t good considering there is a 30km TT to finish the race and the same gaps would come out to over a minute at that distance. That puts them all at a significant disadvantage and puts the onus of them to put major time into Almeida whenever they can.
Last year’s runner-up Jai Hindley and darkhorse favorite Mikel Landa are the big GC losers on the day. They’ve both struggled with TTs throughout their careers and today was no exception. With these losses over less than 10km, it is difficult to imagine either of them defending a lead in that final 30km TT against Almedia, Vlasov, Siakov, or even Bernal.
Only one day after I picked Buchmann as one of the top-four favorites, he totally stinks it up and finishes the worst out of every GC contender. If we look at past Giros, this isn’t a nail-in-the-coffin, but it certainly is a bad sign.
The most important thing to remember is that while the time lost/won here is important since a second is a second, the bigger implication is form. If Landa, Buchmann, or Hindley were riding better in the TT, it would indicate they are in great shape, which would mean he would have a better chance of taking time back in the mountains. In short, these performances are correlated. If you lose loads of time here, you can’t just write it off as not your thing and that you will take time back in the mountains. The fact that you’ve lost time in the first place means you may not be able to take it back later.
My money is on Almeida to take the race lead on stage 4, which finishes on a 4.3km-long, 9.5% climb. But, on the other hand, don’t count Ganna out of anything. He has a massive lead in the GC at the moment and Almeida would have to take at least 7-seconds on the finish and hope Ganna finishes outside the top 3 to take the jersey. With Ganna looking so strong, it is difficult to count him out of anything at this point.
Stage 2 Preview & Predictions
Tomorrow's Stage 2 is a textbook Giro Po Valley sprint affair. At 179km long through the flattest part of the country, this is 100% going to be a sprint stage with a ceremonially breakaway filled up local riders from smaller Italian teams.
Dylan Groenewegen was the best sprinter in the world before he was suspended for nine months for an aggressive sprinting incident. Tomorrow is his first race back, so it will be incredibly interesting to watch how he handles his return.
Prediction: Caleb Ewan beats Tim Merlier with Groenewegen coming in third after struggling to handle the chaos of the final few hundred meters after such a long layoff. Peter Sagan comes in 4th and starts his campaign to win the sprint jersey after narrowly missing out last year.
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Where/When to Watch Stage 1:
Free: Tiz Cycling
Paid: GCN Racepass (USA), Eurosport Player (Europe, UK)
Broadcast Time: 6:30 a.m. – 11:20 a.m. EST