BOLOGNA, Italy (VN) — Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) wanted time splits more than anyone else in Saturday’s opening time trial at the Giro d’Italia, even if it meant risking racing on wet roads.
With weather forecasters calling for a chance of afternoon showers Saturday, nearly every major favorite chose to start early in the 8km race against the clock. Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb), the 2017 Giro champion and winner of last year’s opening time trial in Jerusalem, went first. Eventual winner Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma) wasn’t far behind.
Yates, however, snuck his nose at the forecasts, and decided to start second-to-last more than two hours after his direct rivals. Why? He wanted time splits up the short but steep climb to the San Luca church.
That bet paid off handsomely, and Yates took time on everyone except Roglic as he stopped the clock with the second-fastest time on the stage.
“We just rolled the dice,” said Mitchelton-Scott sport director Matt White. “There was no definitive answer that rain was going to come at any specific time. Those time checks were a plus, and Simon wanted them.”
Starting behind a direct rival in a time trial is always considered an advantage. Not only does the later-starting rider have time references, they can often pace off a rival that is further up the road.
The question of pacing was off the deck due to the short and explosive 8km length Saturday, but the time checks were still valuable.
Roglic and others, however, opted to race early to avoid a chance of afternoon showers.
“We decided it was better to start early,” said Roglic, who won the stage to take the Giro’s first pink jersey. “It was a long wait [in the hot seat] but it was a good way to start the Giro. It was perfect for us.”
It was rare to see all the top favorites start so early in a time trial. Rules allowed the riders to choose which time they wanted to go, and with some forecasts predicting stronger winds and showers later in the afternoon and early evening, most opted to start early.
White, however, said none of the forecasts the team studied showed much variance in exactly when the showers might appear. Instead, they crossed their fingers and hoped the skies would hold, and opted to take the sure bet on time splits.
“People dramatized it pretty good,” White said. “There was maybe 5 percent more chance that it would rain at seven o’clock than at four o’clock. They’re the ones who took the gamble on it being dry.
“We checked the weather, and there was a small chance of rain all day,” he continued. “Simon had a plan there to ride a little bit conservative, and then he knew what time he needed to beat up the climb. It was a good way to start the Giro for us.”
The Giro gods were clearly on Yates’s side. Clouds were building throughout the evening, but Yates was able to compete in more or less the same conditions as his direct rivals.
It was close, however. Less than an hour after he crossed the line, the skies opened up with a heavy deluge and wind.
“The idea in all three time trials is to lose as little time as possible to the time trial specialists, which are Roglic and Dumoulin,” White said. “We lost a little bit of time to Roglic, which everyone did, but we would have never guessed we would have taken time on Dumoulin. It’s a perfect start for us.”