Geraint Thomas only finished fourth in Saturday’s individual time trial, but important opening-day gains against his principal GC rivals puts him in the pole position as the 2020 Giro d’Italia revs up.
Ineos Grenadiers teammate Filippo Ganna won as expected, with Thomas, also as expected, topping the pre-Giro GC favorites.
What was not expected were the significant time differences made in just 15.1km of lumpy, uneven Sicilian pavement. Vincenzo Nibali (Trek-Segafredo), Steven Kruijswijk (Jumbo-Visma), and Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) all gave up more than one minute.
“I felt pretty solid. Maybe I was too aggressive from the start, and in the last 2km, I started to lose the legs,” Thomas said. “I emptied the tank. I was steady on the corners, no risks.”
Thomas stopped the clock 23 seconds slower than Ganna, who is hot off winning the world time trial championship and will don the distinctive pink jersey in Sunday’s first road stage.
What was a bit surprising was how much time Thomas’s direct rivals gave up. Nibali was the best of the rest, giving up 1:06 to Thomas. Kruijswijk ceded 1:21, and Fuglsang lost 1:24 to Thomas.
“If I look at my performance, I judge it in line with the expectations we have. I am satisfied,” Nibali said. “The gaps among the direct competitors are close, with the obvious exception of Thomas, who rode really strong.”
Of course, the Giro is only starting, and the three-week route features a brutally challenging final week where almost everyone expects the real fight for the pink jersey to play out. One short time trial won’t decide anything, but losing more than one minute in 15km of racing means those three pink jersey challengers are starting the Giro on the back foot against the 2018 Tour de France champion.
Compared to how the Tour de France played out, where most of the important gains were won or lost in time trials or in crosswinds, the early losses against Thomas will have an immediate impact on the GC dynamics.
Over the next few stages, Ineos Grenadiers will be racing defensively on two fronts. First, to protect Ganna’s newly printed pink jersey, and then to defend Thomas’s quickly earned advantage.
A fast, mostly descending course from the Monreale cathedral down to the Palermo historic district meant that Thomas, who enters a time trial-heavy Giro as one of the best against the clock among grand tour contenders, was already going to have an advantage.
Strong, gusting winds made an already treacherous course even more dangerous. There were a few crashes, including Colombian star Miguel Ángel López, who lost control of his handlebars and crashed into the barriers. He was transported to a local hospital in an ambulance, exiting the Giro and leaving Fuglsang without an important ally for the mountains.
One GC rival who did limit their losses was Simon Yates. The Mitchelton-Scott captain was expecting to lose time Saturday, but he came away with only ceding 26 seconds to Thomas. It was a solid performance that sets up the GC between the two British stars.
“It’s not a course that was good for me, I just tried to do what I could,” Yates said. “The race is long, and this is only 15km of the course. Hopefully it’s a good start, and we’ll see what happens in the next few days.