Giro d'Italia
Photo: Justin Setterfield/Getty Images

Tit-for-tat a side show to Roglic’s impressive Giro opening shot

Primoz Roglic might have won the opening stage, but the Giro d'Italia opened with an old-fashioned 'polemica'

BOLOGNA, Italy (VN) — “Polemica” is a time-honored tradition at the Giro d’Italia, and it didn’t take long for the fine art of “he-said, he-said” to distract attention from an impressive opening salvo from Primoz Roglic.

The Jumbo-Visma rider laid down an early marker Saturday and put his rivals on notice to win a short but intense opening time trial to claim the maglia rosa, but it was an early war of words between two of the Giro’s main protagonists that grabbed headlines.

Former ski jumper Roglic roared to an early fast time to stake claim to the “hot seat” and waited nearly three hours until the late-starting Simon Yates finally stopped the clock in second at 19 seconds slower before he could don the pink jersey.

But it was what Yates said the previous day, and how it was relayed across the media and social media, that soaked up the airwaves.

The defending Vuelta a España champion opened things up during a Friday pre-race press conference, when he boldly singled himself out as the big favorite to win this year’s Giro. When asked about an earlier interview when he said his rivals should be “shitting themselves” because, by his own measure, he was riding so well, Yates said yes, that’s exactly what he meant.

“I’ve been thinking about this race for almost 12 months now,” Yates said. “I’ve been very dedicated, very focused about it. If I was in my rivals’ position, I would be scared. I would be shitting myself.”

Yates said it matter-of-factly, as if he was simply stating the obvious: he’s here to win.

Those sharp words, however, soon made headlines. When two-time winner Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) saw them, he took issue.

“I’m interested in seeing how Yates performs because he said we all need to … ‘go to the toilet’,” Nibali said Saturday. “I don’t know if that’s exactly what he said, things get blown up at the Giro. We’ve all got to show some respect for everyone who is fighting for victory in the Giro.”

The tit-for-tat played out as the 2019 Giro opened up hostilities with a short, but explosive 8km time trial that finished with a biting climb up to the hilltop Madonna di San Luca church. Roglic and Nibali were among a wave of pre-race favorites who decided to race early in light of forecasts calling for late afternoon showers. Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb) rolled down the start ramp at 4:50 p.m. Yates, who risked the chance of showers so he could have time checks to his primary rivals, was the only major pre-race favorite who started later. Yates blasted down the ramp nearly three hours later.

In the meantime, social media and headlines blew up with a good, old-fashioned “polemica.”

Nibali and others chimed in, including offering their own comments without being prodded by journalists. Riders had taken note.

With the sun setting over Italy’s foodie capital of Bologna, Yates finally crossed the line with an impressive second place — ahead of Nibali but behind Roglic — and said it was all a big misunderstanding.

“I respect my rivals greatly,” Yates said as he spun on the rollers post-stage. “I didn’t mean any disrespect to anyone if that’s how they’ve taken it. Maybe I should be the one shitting myself, from Roglic, he’s done a great ride today.”

Clearly preferring to let his legs do the talking was Roglic. The Slovenian started in the first wave of riders and picked up where he left off with three GC stage-race wins this season, and crushed the course, setting the only time under 13 minutes on the fast course to open the 102nd Giro.

“There was not a ‘big’ tactic,” Roglic said. “It was not technical. [The course] was quite honest. It was full-gas on the climb.”

Time trials are also called the race of truth, and for good reason. As riders race one on one against the clock, there’s no place to hide. Roglic was the truest, and most of the other pre-race favorites bubbled near the top of the Giro’s first truth test.

Dumoulin ceded 28 seconds, perhaps more than most expected. Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana) also only gave up 28 seconds, proving that time losses are relative depending on who you are. A few more big names gave away more than expected, including Bob Jungels (Deceuninck-Quick-Step), 13th at 46 seconds slower, Mikel Landa (Movistar), 36th at 1:07, and Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha-Alpecin), 53rd at 1:20 back.

In the end, as most “polemicas” are, there was much ado about nothing.

The 102nd Giro resumes Sunday with its first real road stage — 205km from Bologna to Fucecchio in what should see a sprint finale — and the GC favorites will slip into their protective cocoons.

The 2019 Giro d’Italia is very long, with its hardest stages packed into the final week, but it started with a bang Saturday, both on and off the road. Roglic put everyone on notice that he’s the man to beat, and the race saw its first “polemica” barely before the first rider went down the start ramp. There’s sure to be plenty more before this Giro is over.