Giro d’Italia roundtable: What to make of the race’s whacky opening time trial

We serve up our takes on the high-speed downhill TT that opened this year's Giro d'Italia, and take a look at the early GC shakeups.

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Filippo Ganna (Ineos Grenadiers) ripped to victory on the opening stage of the Giro d’Italia on Saturday, setting an average speed of nearly 59kph over the 15.1-kilometer test into Palermo.

Geraint Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers) came off best of the GC riders, taking fourth-place on the downward-pointing time trial and gaining over one minute on GC rivals Steven Kruijswijk (Jumbo-Visma), Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) and Vincenzo Nibali (Trek Segafredo). Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) put in a solid ride to cede only 23 seconds to the Welshman.

Where does the opening stage leave the GC contenders, and what could happen on the summit finish to Etna on Monday? And what do we make of the unusual time trial route, which started with a short climb before barreling its way downhill for nearly 10-kilometers?

Let’s roundtable!

What did you make of the Palermo time trial route? Would you like to see more downhill TTs in racing?

Andrew Hood (@eurohoody): Typical atypical Giro stage. I dig how Giro organizers are not afraid to push the boundaries, but sometimes they seem to go too far. Riders were complaining about uneven road surfaces, and that appears to be what contributed to Lopez being sent to the hospital. I’m surprised there weren’t more crashes. It’s obvious many of the non-specialists GC riders were not taking risks, and they all lost a lot of time as a result. Is that what the race organization wants? One cheap thrill to perhaps undermine the rest of the race?

Jim Cotton (@jim_c_1985): Within limits, why not? The bumpy road sure did make it sketchy, but once the high winds died down toward the second half of the stage, it seemed safe enough – just. I think the dynamic of the steep opening climb before the madcap downhill and tight hairpins halfway made it a very “watchable” TT compared to, for example, an all-flat prologue. That said, race organizers can’t push it too far – I can’t see a return of something like the Poggio downhill time trial of 1987 being welcomed by anyone.

James Startt: I wouldn’t particularly want to see more time trials like that. This stage was a bit too much about descending. I am all for a good descent in a TT but this one could easily have gone sour with the winds that we had in the morning. Pretty amazing that it didn’t. But that is no reason to test one’s fate.

How much of a setback is it for Fuglsang, Nibali and Kruijswijk to have lost over one minute on Thomas already?

Geraint Thomas took a commanding lead over his GC rivals. Photo: Stuart Franklin/Getty Images

Jim: If one of those three was an aggressive natural climber such as Tadej Pogačar, I’d say it was less of a worry, but let’s face it, Fuglsang and Kruijswijk are big diesel motors unlikely to launch spectacular attacks that grab them 2o or 30 seconds at a time. Nibali has that attacking flair, but The Shark’s fins are not as speedy as they used to be. Those three would have been gnashing their teeth Saturday night, especially after Simon Yates rode strong to lose less than 30 seconds on Thomas. Oh, and don’t mention the loss of Miguel Ángel López to Fuglsang….

James: It’s a setback for sure. But then Pogačar lost over a minute in the winds in the Tour de France and it turned out to be a blessing in disguise. The pressure is off them. They can go on the attack!

Andrew: In a word — huge. At the Tour de France, most of the significant time differences were made in time trials or splits caused by the wind. Everyone talks about how hard the Giro’s final week is, but that shouldn’t crack Thomas unless he simply doesn’t have the legs to go the distance. Taking a minute so early is very significant, and puts his rivals at an immediate disadvantage. Sure, it’s not their specialty, but to lose one minute in 15km?! It’s a sign that this Giro could be wacky, or a blowout. We shall soon see.

How do you see the summit finish atop Mount Etna on Monday playing out? Will GC riders want to secure the pink jersey and have responsibility for the race so early on?

Andrew: The GC riders will be attacking from the gun in this Giro. Why? Weather, coronavirus and maybe an invasion from Mars could cut short the race. No one knows how long a grand tour has to be raced to be official. That question was never answered during the Tour de France. With Geraint Thomas taking early gains in the first TT, and two more time trials looming, his rivals can’t just pedal around Italy and hope he cracks in the third week. If someone has good legs, they have to go. The climb shouldn’t prove decisive, however, but it will show if someone doesn’t have the climbing legs to arrive to Milan.
Jim: Given Nibali, Kruijswijk and Fuglsang are off the back already, their teams need to go on the offense straight away, and so hopefully the long grind to the top of the volcano will see action – though those guys have next to no chance of taking one minute back on Thomas in one climb. With Thomas only 23 seconds off the top of the GC already, it could be very likely he ends up in the pink on Monday night unless he has a disaster on stage 2 Sunday. Ineos has a team full of big motors that can dictate the racing through the largely flat first-half of this Giro, so I doubt Brailsford and Co. will be worried if Thomas does go into the lead atop Etna.
James: The Etna stage is always intriguing with such a long climb so early in the race. And then there are the lava fields which are pretty spectacular. But in terms of racing, it is often underwhelming. Perhaps it is because it is so early in the race that the big guns are holding back, or perhaps it is because while the climb is long it is not really that steep.

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