It’s Remco Evenepoel vs. Tadej Pogačar at Tirreno-Adriatico

Top names likes Richard Carapaz and Jonas Vingegaard lose a half minute and more in opening time trial to top GC favorites.

Photo: Photo by Tim de Waele/Getty Images

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LIDO DI CAMAIORE, Italy (VN) —  Monday’s 13.9km opening day time trial at Tirreno-Adriatico delivered the GC battle that everyone was hoping to see.

It could well be Remco Evenepoel vs. Tadej Pogačar all week long.

The superstar pair is separated by just seven seconds, with the Belgian finishing second at 11 seconds slower than winner Filippo Ganna (Ineos Grenadiers).

In what’s their first major GC battle at a stage race of their young careers, the weeklong Italian stage race could serve as a preview of a rivalry that could last a decade.

“I don’t know if those eight seconds, they will not be enough probably,” Evenepoel said. “I think the only way or the only day that I can hope to beat him if he has a really bad day.

“Or that he didn’t recover from last Saturday, but he is such a strong and spectacular rider, he probably won’t have a bad day this week.”

Also read: Merckx on Pogačar: ‘It’s incredible what he’s able to do’

Pogačar trailed through for third on the stage, just seven ticks of the second hand slower than Evenepoel.

“It was a really intense TT. It was a super-fast course with a bumpy road. I did a good run. I am happy with my time and my power,” Pogačar said. “I am looking forward to the next days to come. All six days will hard, maybe the last one is more easy, but we we have extra-week in front of us.”

Of course, Miguel Ángel López (Astana-Qazaqstan) at 42 seconds slower, Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers) at 47 seconds back and Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) at 53 seconds back all might have something to say about it.

Evenepoel, Pogačar poised for GC battle after TT salvo

Pogačar powered to third in the opening stage at Tirreno-Adriatico. (Photo: Photo by Tim de Waele/Getty Images)

The flat, out-and-back course along Italy’s Tirreno coast saw Ganna take on the best of the GC challengers.

The Italian world time trial champion was quick to downplay any speculation that he might have the legs to challenge for trident trophy in a week’s time.

“Tomorrow there is a stage for sprinters and we will see if I will be able to defend this jersey,” Ganna said. “In the next few days I will support the team leaders, Richard Carapaz and Richie Porte, and if my legs allow it, I will try to show myself up front again.”

There were some surprises, especially Vingegaard, the young Dane who gave Pogačar his stiffest challenge in the 2021 Tour de France. Vingegaard was 53 seconds slower than Ganna and admitted at the line it wasn’t his best effort.

Pogačar was also playing down expectations at the start, saying he was still hoping to recover from his hard effort to win the spectacular edition of Strade Bianche just 48 hours before.

Also read: Ganna powers to time trial victory

Starting last, Pogačar was more than 10 seconds slower at the split, but clawed back some time in the final part of the course as his engine warmed up from the hard effort.

Evenepoel, who earned the white jersey of the best young rider, said he was racing to win the stage, and not necessarily aiming to better Pogačar in the first of many inevitable duels the pair will see.

“If you start with a time trial, you always have to believe you can win,” Evenepoel said. “I gave my maximum. The pacing I did was as we planned. I was hoping it was enough, but we all know that Filippo [Ganna] is a specialist in such a time trial. It would have been really hard and surprising to beat him today. I am happy to come quite close, the closest of the rest.”

With Evenepoel’s strong start, Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl is especially well-positioned. Kasper Asgreen, third at Strade Bianche, is just six seconds behind Pogačar, and world champion Julian Alaphilippe at 58 seconds slower than Ganna.

That could set up the dynamic of Evenepoel marking Pogačar’s wheel, and the rest of the team lighting up flares.

Evenepoel said he’s relishing the chase against the peloton’s emerging new superstar.

“I hope he has a good level again this week, so I can try to compete with him,” Evenepoel said. “The best way you can put yourself against somebody when you can both perform in the best shape without any bad luck, so I hope we can have a week without bad luck, and we will see Sunday what the result will bring.”

Right now, Tirreno-Adriatico could deliver the first major GC clash between the two stars. There is a peloton full of riders intent on making it more than a two-horse race.

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