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Giro d'Italia

Giro d’Italia: Filippo Ganna victory signals a strategic pivot for Ineos Grenadiers

The early exit by Geraint Thomas means Ineos Grenadiers will attack for stage wins instead of racing for pink jersey.

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In a replay of the Tour de France, Ineos Grenadiers is making the most of the 2020 Giro d’Italia by chasing stage wins after its GC ambitions flamed out earlier than expected.

Just as the team had to reboot last month when Egan Bernal abandoned the Tour, resulting in a pride-salvaging stage victory in the final week, the team is hitting the reset button.

Geraint Thomas is at home nursing a fractured hip, leaving his teammates with chances to go for their own successes. Filippo Ganna delivered his second stage victory Wednesday, but under very different conditions than what the British team was expecting for the 2020 Giro.

“We came here all for ‘G,’ and it’s a real shame about what happened,” said Ineos Grenadiers sport director Dario Cioni. “We wanted to look for new opportunities, and today we were aggressive.”

With the team’s pre-race GC hopes in tatters — Tao Geoghegan Hart is best-placed at 19th at 3:18 back — Ineos Grenadiers didn’t waste time putting riders into moves in what had the ideal profile Wednesday for a breakaway. Ganna and Salvatore Puccio rode into an eight-rider move that pulled clear about 50km into the six-hour stage.

Ganna, 24, attacked with about 17km to go, and used his huge TT engine that delivered victory Saturday in Palermo to fend off a counter-attack from Thomas De Gendt and Einer Rubio, holding a 1-minute gap over the summit. In a wet descent to the line, Ganna kept his cool to fend off the chasers to deliver his first his pro win that wasn’t a test against the clock.

“There is a big difference to win like this,” Ganna said. “Yesterday I messaged with Geraint, and he said go into the breakaway, and try to win another stage, and today it’s amazing victory for me and the team.

“It’s very hard, with 82kg, it is not easy to [pull] up,” Ganna said. “In the end, I made a big chrono to the finish line. I had a problem with the radio, and I didn’t have the time gap to the other guys, so I just said, pull full-gas to the finish.”

Ganna’s victory will be a temporary salve for Ineos Grenadiers, which was racing with the outside possibility of sweeping all three grand tours in the rejigged 2020 season. Now with Bernal and Thomas flaming out, it’s up to Chris Froome at the Vuelta a España. It’s unsure if the team might send Richard Carapaz or even Bernal to the Vuelta, though it appears unlikely the 2019 Tour champ will race again this season.

In what’s a big difference between the Tour and the Giro, the team in Italy has a lot more time to make an impact. Last month, Bernal stayed in the race until stage 17, leaving the team few opportunities too reboot. Carapaz carried team colors into the final stages, attacking in three straight days, before Michal Kwiatkowski won ahead of Carapaz in stage 19. Carapaz had earned the climber’s jersey, only to lose it the next day to eventual Tour winner Tadej Pogačar in the Belles Filles time trial.

In contrast, there is plenty of asphalt between southern Italy and the end of the Giro in Milano on October 25. Jonathan Castroviejo climbed to eighth up Mount Etna on Monday the same day Thomas abandoned, while Ganna stepped up Wednesday.

Ganna, who has the Tokyo Olympic Games and track racing at the center of his agenda going into 2021, will have a few more chances for stage wins, with two more time trials on the Giro docket.

“We knew that Filippo is a fantastic time trial man, but today he proved he can do it on the road as well,” Cioni said. “We thought at the start of the day we thought he could be working in the breakaway, in the long stage like today, but you never know what is going to happen in bike racing. It was a smart move in the decisive moment.”