Four of the top-five in Saturday’s windy and challenging time trial in Palermo are in the Giro’s white jersey youth category. Only Geraint Thomas, a wily rider of 34 who stopped the clock for fourth, could spoil the under-25 party to kick start the Giro.
The top-three in the stage — Filippo Ganna, João Almeida and Mikkel Bjerg — and fifth-place finisher Tobias Foss are all racing the first day of their first grand tour. And all four have the look of being big stars in the WorldTour peloton.
Ganna, of course, is hot off winning the world time trial championship last week in Imola. The big, speedy Italian is also a top track cyclist, and is expected to head to Tokyo next summer to race on the boards for Italy.
The 24-year-old’s time trial skills will only improve once he fully commits to the road, and since he is part of the Ineos Grenadiers star factory, we could be looking at the next Fabian Cancellara-type dominator against the clock. At 1.93m, he might be too tall to develop into grand tour material, but knocking off one-week stage races with a time trial and moderate mountains could become his playground.
Seeing UAE-Team Emirates’ Bjerg, 21, put down a good ride for third-place is no surprise either. A three-time U23 world time trial champion, many expect big things from Bjerg. Like Ganna, he’s tall, at 1.91m, maybe too tall to be a grand tour contender. But who knows? Put any of these guys on the right course in five years, and anything is possible.
Jumbo-Visma’s Foss, fifth on the day behind Thomas, put down a good marker as well. You almost have to feel sorry for the 23-year-old Norwegian. As the 2019 winner of the Tour de l’Avenir, he comes into the pro ranks after seeing the past two Avenir winners claim victory in the Tour de France in just their second year in the WorldTour. Egan Bernal, winner of the key development race in 2017, won the yellow jersey last year, while Tadej Pogačar, the 2018 Avenir winner, won the Tour in his first crack in spectacular fashion last month. According to that trend, Foss should win the 2021 Tour, right?
And then there’s Almeida. Of the latest crop of young riders elbowing their way into the WorldTour peloton, the 22-year-old probably as the best chance of grand tour rookies to make a real mark on this year’s Giro.
A strong climber, Almeida seems to have the build, mindset and racing instincts to go far. He was a late addition to the team’s Giro squad — he was supposed to race the Vuelta a España — but he should go well in this Giro. Another graduate of Hagens Berman Axeon, the Portuguese rider has been on a tear for much of 2020, including before and after the lockdown. He was third at the Vuelta a Burgos, behind winner and teammate Remco Evenepoel (everyone’s favorite Gen Z rider), seventh at the Tour de l’Ain, second at the Giro dell’Emilia, and third again at the Coppi e Bartali.
With so many young and talented riders pouring into the peloton, the older riders better hurry up and win. They might have too many more chances.