A re-examination of the split times from the opening time trial of the Giro d’Italia saw Tao Geoghegan Hart hastily assigned the maglia azzurra of best climber minutes before the start of stage 2 in Teramo. That cosmetic adjustment aside, however, the key verdict of the race’s opening test remained unchanged: Remco Evenepoel (Soudal-QuickStep) is the man to beat on this Giro.
Still, even though Evenepoel’s hefty advantage from Saturday evening remained the same on Sunday morning, the initial shock and awe that greeted his finishing time had seemed to soften slightly among his rivals overnight. The emotions of this race can understandably lead to snap judgements, but its sheer difficulty demands perspective.
Or, as Ineos Grenadiers Directeur Sportif Matteo Tosatto put it: “The Giro is long, and we’ve only done 19km. We’ve got another 3,380 kilometres to go.”
Geraint Thomas had confessed to a certain disappointment when he completed his time trial on Saturday afternoon, a feeling surely exacerbated when Evenepoel flashed through the finish area shortly afterwards and consigned him to an early deficit of 55 seconds. The gap was abyssal for a time trial as short as this, yet surmountable in an event of these vast dimensions.
“Taking all the emotion out of it, it’s probably where I’d expect to be coming in here after the year I’ve had. It’s a decent start and 20 days to go,” Thomas said in the mixed zone ahead of stage 2.
“It wasn’t so bad, but you always want more. I just overcooked it slightly at the start and that meant I didn’t quite have enough to really go on that climb. I wasn’t a million miles away.”
Evenepoel better than Ganna’s best
In truth, Evenepoel’s remarkable performance skewed the graph for everybody else. While Thomas’ deficit of almost a minute to the Belgian is an obvious concern, he could still draw satisfaction from limiting his losses on Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) to just a dozen seconds. Similarly, Geoghegan Hart’s concession of 40 seconds to Evenepoel masks the fact that his effort on the road to Ortona was perhaps the best time trial performance of his career.
“We all said Tao did maybe his best-ever performance in a time trial. But it wasn’t a surprise, it was another test that told us that Tao, from February until now, has been constantly improving,” Tosatto told Cyclingnews.
“Geraint was very fast in the first part, but he was missing that change of rhythm on the first part of the climb and that cost him. But if we think of where he was two months ago in terms of condition, we have to be happy. Obviously, the gap to Remco is considerable, but staying within twelve seconds of Roglič is very positive for us. So in terms of performance, we’re very happy.”
The most striking yardstick for Evenepoel’s outsized performance was provided by another Ineos rider. Filippo Ganna arrived at this Giro with a 5-0 record in time trials on the corsa rosa and he was the favourite to claim the first pink jersey of the race for the third time in as many participations.
The Hour Record holder instead had to settle for second place, 22 seconds behind Evenepoel. Ganna’s average speed was almost a kilometre per hour slower than the Soudal-QuickStep man, but Tosatto revealed that his performance was still among the highest-calibre he had ever recorded.
“Filippo’s performance was one of his best-ever in terms of watts, and he did his best-ever 20-minute effort,” Tosatto said. “He delivered a big performance, it’s just that Remco did better.
“But if somebody says Remco’s performance was a surprise, then it means they haven’t been watching cycling for the last two or three years. For us, it’s not a surprise. The only surprise might be the time gaps, but we knew he was going well from the way he won Liège.”
For Evenepoel’s rivals, the most ominous thing about his crushing win in Ortona was that he has the chance to do it all over again next weekend, and on a grander scale. Stage 9 to Cesena is a 35km time trial that presents him with a clear opportunity to pad his advantage out still further.
“If we look at it from here, it could be dangerous,” Tosatto said. “But if you analyse it a bit closer, it’s a week into the race and all of the GC guys will get there with a bit of fatigue, so I think the level will start to balance out a bit. On top of that, the time trial is longer and more technical than Ortona. It’s different, in other words.”
All logic suggests Evenepoel will remain the frontrunner through the Giro’s opening chapter, but recent history has repeatedly demonstrated that the race’s initial narrative can be rewritten dramatically in the third week. Geoghegan Hart’s own 2020 victory, which came after hefty early losses in Sicily, was a textbook example.
Geoghegan Hart might draw solace from that thought on Sunday evening, after he conceded another 19 seconds to Evenepoel when he was caught behind a crash with 3.8km remaining. A frustration, but not a disaster at this early juncture. The Londoner drops to 8th overall, 59 seconds behind Evenepoel, while Thomas climbs three places to 6th overall.
“Compared to 2020, Tao has matured and he’s calmer,” Tosatto said. “If one day he doesn’t go well, he doesn’t lose his morale. And if he’s flying the next day, he doesn’t get too excited either.”
Faced with a soaring Evenepoel, however, Ineos and the rest of his rivals will have to hope the race itself can eventually help bring to him back to earth.
“I’ve managed to get here in decent enough shape. Hopefully I can get better, or if not, at least stay around where I am and then other people might drop off a bit,” said Thomas, who spent much of the Spring chasing his form after a sequence of illnesses.
“Power-wise, it’s not so bad, but it’s just the consistency of it. It feels like I’m coming into some form, whereas at the Tour last year, I’d had a good month or so at that level beforehand. But as I keep saying, it’s all about the last week here. We’ll stay positive.”