BUTTRIO, Italy (VN) – “What’s your take on time trials in grand tours, Larry?”
The ever-easygoing American burst into laughter.
“I mean, kind of a crazy time to ask that question,” Warbasse said with a smile, panting, spittle crusted around his lips. “They’re good. Lately, in the last years, they’ve gotten rid of time trials. And to me, that kind of sucks. I think grand tour winners should be well-rounded cyclists, not just climbers. So I, think it’s nice to see a bunch of time trials like this, you know?”
This year’s Giro packs in almost 65 kilometers against the clock over three individual tests, an almost unprecedented amount in the recent grand tour era. September’s Tour de France featured one time trial, and before that, the 2019 Vuelta a España had one short TTT and one longer individual effort.
Much had been made of the time trial heavy route for this year’s race – would Geraint Thomas obliterate his rivals in the mid-race 34-kilometer stage and kill off the action? Would it impact the tactics of the likes of Simon Yates and Domenico Pozzovivo, both of whom stood to lose time against strong time trialists such as Thomas and Wilco Kelderman?
“I’m not the biggest fan of time trials, but I suppose for grand tours, you want a well-rounded race,” Joe Dombrowski said. “But yeah, for me, personally, I mean, yeah, I can kind of take it or leave it.”
Thomas de Gendt rolled to the mixed zone having spent the best part of 10 minutes collecting himself after his ride into fourth place on the stage.
“I prefer a time trial or two or even three in every grand tour,” he said with glazed eyes and a can of soda in his hands. “It’s nice to give all the riders a chance for a good result. Of course, climbers would say different, but you need to have everything to be good in a GC.”
The exit of Thomas, by far the strongest on a time trial bike of the pre-race favorites has voided the impact of the time trial heavy parcours at this year’s Giro, and perhaps proof that you can only win a grand tour if you have luck on your side and avoid mishaps and mayhem. Since the Welshman crashed out of the race, the action so far in Italy has shown that TT gains are easily balanced against climbing losses.
Although pink jersey João Almeida’s powerful performance against the clock in the race’s opening stage positioned him perfectly to pounce on the overall with a strong climb to Etna, this weekend’s racing showed that it can be a case of swings and roundabouts. The Portuguese youngster gained 16 seconds over main rival Kelderman in the long ‘Prosecco’ time trial Saturday to see those gains wiped out and reversed by the Dutchman on the climb to Piancavallo the day afterward.
The argument that too much time trialing can kill a race was turned on its head when Tadej Pogacar delivered that ride to snatch the yellow jersey from Primoz Roglic on the final day of racing as the race was tipped upside down in one hour-long stage.
“The tour we had only one time trial on the final day and that totally changed the race and made it really exciting,” De Gendt said. “While climbers I guess generally wouldn’t want any time trials, it can go either way. The Tour showed anything is possible.”
However, it’s likely always the mountains that will dictate the winners and losers come the end of a race. Having been sitting with a comfortable 56-second lead after the Valdobbiadene time trial Saturday, Almeida now nurses just a 15-second buffer on Kelderman after Sunweb’s climbing onslaught on the Piancavallo summit finish.
The hints of a crack in Almeida’s armor now place the momentum on the Dutchman’s side heading into the tough final week in the Alps. As Mitchelton-Scott director Matt White pointed out ahead of the Giro, “You can be the best time trialist in the race, but if you cannot handle the brutality of the last week, you won’t win.”
The days of massive TT engines such as Miguel Indurain and even Bradley Wiggins dominating grand tours may now be coming to a close as riders become more capable of riding each and every terrain and the technological playing field levels out. Just as the consensus regarding how much time trialing is “too much” is blurred, it seems riders will just race whatever parcours is put in front of them.
“I mean I’m just a rider, I don’t really care how much TTing there is,” Joey Rosskopf said. “Anyway it’s not up for me – it’s up to the organizer to design a race how they want and to and keep it exciting. We just race what’s there.”
This year’s Giro wraps up Sunday, October 25, with a 15km blast into central Milano. By that point, the peloton will just be glad to be out of the saddle, whether that be of a time trial or road bike.