It’s funny to think that many of us were doubting Filippo Ganna (Ineos Grenadiers). To be fair, the world time trial champion hadn’t looked himself in recent weeks. Starting at Tirreno-Adriatico, Ganna was beaten in the final time trial by Wout van Aert (Team Jumbo-Visma) and Stefan Küng (Groupama–FDJ) – his first time trial loss of the season. A few weeks later, Ganna could only manage 9th in the Tour de Romandie prologue, a full 15 seconds off the pace in just four kilometers – not only is Ganna the world champion in the race against the clock, he is also the current world record holder of the 4km individual pursuit, too. But the Romandie Prologue had two U-turns and a steep final climb, so maybe that could explain Ganna’s poor result.
But on stage 7 of the Tour de Romandie, Ganna again failed to deliver in the time trial, finishing 10th behind many of his TT rivals including Rémi Cavagna (Deceuninck-Quick Step), Stefan Bissegger (EF Education-Nippo), and his own teammate, Rohan Dennis. Just a few weeks before, Ganna had seemed unbeatable. But as the first stage of the Giro d’Italia approached, many began to doubt the Italian’s dominance, especially with names like Evenepoel, Almeida, and Foss on the stage 1 start list.
Stage 1 of the 2021 Giro d’Italia was an 8.6km individual time trial around Torino. (Based on post-race data analysis, it seems as though the official length of stage 1 was not exactly 8.6km, meaning that the average speeds discussed below may be inaccurate by 1-2kph.)
Beginning in the Palazzo Madama, the course wound down towards the River Po, where riders flew along the water for about two and a half kilometers before making a tight right-hander and climbing across a bridge. Then, they turned onto the Corso Moncalieri, a flat and fast stretch of tarmac, all the way to the finish. A pure TT specialist would likely come out on top, but a number of technical corners throughout the route meant that risks would need to be taken in order to earn a top spot in stage 1 of the Giro.
Hours before he rolled down the start ramp in the rainbow stripes, Ganna headed out for a recon ride of the stage 1 course. He completed two full laps of the course, the first being easy, and the second including a few minutes of ‘openers’ near race pace.
It is fascinating to see what professional riders do on the day of a time trial. Most scout out the course in the morning, a few throw in some high-intensity efforts, and even fewer skip the recon completely.
During Ganna’s “easy” lap, he averaged just 241w at an average speed of 41.3kph (25.7mph). Even at less than 3w/kg, Ganna is going faster than most amateur riders could manage in a full gas effort. It is a testament to his equipment and position on the bike, backed up by hours in the wind tunnel and on the track, with his forearms perfectly tucked into his 3-D printed aero bars.
Ganna – easy warm-up lap:
Average Power: 241w (2.8w/kg)
Normalized Power: 255w (3w/kg)
Average Speed: 41.3kph (25.7mph)
Next, Ganna rode about two-thirds of the lap at 90 percent – I’m guessing here, based on his average speed and power output, and how they compare to what he produced during the stage 1 TT. Ganna choose the most technical section of the course to complete his efforts so that he could practice taking the corners (almost) at race speed. And when you’re this good on a TT bike, that means you’ll be taking 110 degree downhill corners at nearly 60kph.
During his recon lap, Ganna punched out of the corners at 700-1,000w (8.2-11.8w/kg), and then settled into 450-500w on the straightaways (5.3-5.9w/kg). He was moving at a speed that most riders are happy to hit on a descent: 50-60kph on the straights, and taking the corners at nearly the same speed.
Ganna – hard warm-up lap:
Average Power: 470w (5.5w/kg)
Normalized Power: 493w (5.9w/kg)
Average Speed: 53.5kph (33.2mph)
As the hours pass, tension builds before stage 1 of the Giro d’Italia. Filippo Tagliani (Androni Giocattoli-Sidermec) was the first rider out on course, but it was Matthias Brändle (Israel Start-Up Nation) who set the best early time of 9:09. The maglia rosa contenders each take their chance out on course, and then it was Tobias Foss (Jumbo-Visma) who smashed the time of Brändle by crossing the line in nine minutes flat.
Foss’ teammate, Edoardo Affini, was the only rider who could challenge the Norwegian’s time, and Affini stopped the clock in 8:57. Rider after rider came through the finish line, but no one could even get close to the time set by the 24-year-old Italian. Perhaps Affini was dreaming of the stage win, and wearing the maglia rosa for the first time in his home grand tour. But then, there was Ganna.
As soon as I saw images of Ganna ripping through the corners at 60kph, I knew he was going to win. The TT world champion put every ounce of power into the pedals as if he was being chased by wolves. I’m not sure if Ganna ever touched his brakes apart from the single U-turn on the course.
At the first checkpoint, Ganna was already two seconds ahead of Affini. In the less technical section of the course, Ganna put even more time into his rivals, pushing over 550w on every section of the course, and motoring along the River Po at over 60kph.
Ganna – stage 1 final 2km:
Average Power: 590w (7w/kg)
Max Power: 775w (9.1w/kg)
Average Speed: 60.7kph (37.7mph)
As the world champion approached the final few hundred meters, there wasn’t an ounce of doubt who was going to take the stage win and pull on the first maglia rosa of the 2021 Giro d’Italia.
Ganna – Giro d’Italia stage 1:
Estimated Average Power: in excess of 500w (>6w/kg)
Average Speed: 58.8kph (36.5mph)
Level of ridiculousness: extreme
Power Analysis data courtesy of Strava
Riders: Filippo Ganna