FLORENCE, Italy (VN) — Filippo Ganna (UAE Team Emirates) has the makings to lead Italy, a country surprisingly lacking in results, over the cobbled roads of northern Europe in the next few years.
After periods of domination, Italy has suffered a dry spell in the one-day monuments, especially the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix. The 21-year-old Ganna, an individual pursuit champion and winner of the under-23 Paris-Roubaix, could be that sparkling oasis in the desert.
“I’d love to already be top five in one of the cobbled races this year,” Ganna told VeloNews.
He will race the classics opening weekend at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne at the end of February in Belgium, the track world championships, and will then support UAE’s new star signee Alexander Kristoff. The Norwegian already won Milano-Sanremo in 2014 and the Tour of Flanders in 2015.
At age 19, Ganna won the individual pursuit world title on the track in London. It is a mark of talent, a title once in the hands of Fausto Coppi, Chris Boardman, Bradley Wiggins, and Taylor Phinney. Lampre-Merida kept an eye on him and signed him to a pro contract last year when the management changed sponsors to Arabian airline giant Emirates.
“Remember, I turned pro at 20, only with one stage race in my legs, the Tour de L’Avenir. I was penalized and had to learn quickly, also from making errors,” Ganna said.
“This is going to be a big season for us [with the signing of Kristoff, Dan Martin, and Fabio Aru]. In the classics, I don’t have much experience and above all, I want to learn.”
Ganna towers over the pack. Off his bike, he wears size 13 shoes and is 6-foot-5. This year, he tips the scales at 167 pounds after losing nearly nine pounds.
The weight loss and experience might have helped him in his season debut in Argentina at the Vuelta a San Juan. He rocketed ahead of most riders on the small uphill finish, powered clear with Tiesj Benoot (Lotto-Soudal) on the summit finish stage, and placed second to Ryan Mullen (Trek-Segafredo) in the time trial. As a result, he held the leader’s jersey, placed third overall, and won the young rider classification.
In his team’s country this week at the Dubai Tour, he is helping lead out Kristoff. It is their first race together, and an important preparation ahead of the opening weekend and the monuments to come.
“This is the second year pro for me, I’ve improved so much on the road and mentally, so this is a starting point for the races ahead,” he continued.
“I’m taking it step by step and going where the team guides me. I think I can learn much from Kristoff because he’s practically at home on those cobbled roads. And my other teammates, too.”
Italy enjoyed a string of success with Francesco Moser, Franco Ballerini, Gianni Bugno, Michele Bartoli, and Andrea Tafi. Since Alessandro Ballan’s win in the 2007 Tour of Flanders and Filippo Pozzato’s placings, it has been quiet on the cobbles.
There is hope for the country, however, with Team Sky’s Gianni Moscon who placed fifth in Paris-Roubaix last year at age 22. And of course Ganna, who will ride on Kristoff’s wings this spring.