Giro d’Italia: Who will be the first to pull on the pink jersey?

The Giro's 'Grande Partenza' offers some of the best time trialists in the peloton the opportunity to wear pink. Here's the five that could do it.

Photo: LUCA BETTINI/AFP via Getty Images

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Turin has a long history with the automotive industry.

And sure enough, there will be some massive engines revving through the city’s streets for the opening time trial of the Giro d’Italia on Saturday.

The Giro’s pan-flat, 8.6km “Grande Partenza” will see some of the peloton’s top time trialists vying not just for stage honors, but also for the prestige of becoming the race’s first maglia rosa. 

So, who will be the first to sip the podium prosecco of this year’s Giro d’Italia?

Here’s our top-5 picks:

Filippo Ganna (Ineos Grenadiers)

Ganna let up the 2020 Giro, but his ambitions may be elsewhere this year. Photo: James Startt

Season TT palmarès: 2 x 1st, 1 x 3rd, 2 x top-10

Filippo Ganna melted the hearts of the nonnas of his nation at last year’s Giro, sweeping the race’s three TTs and winning a gritty mountain stage for good measure.

The massive-motored Italian’s crushing performance at his home grand tour came in the midst of a searing run of eight consecutive TT victories that stretched from last summer through to the UAE Tour this February. However, the time trial world champ has been a half-watt off the pace in his last three races against the clock. “Top Ganna” finished way back in 10th behind Giro rival Rémi Cavagna in his most recent race against the clock at the Tour de Romandie last week.

Has Ganna blown a gasket?

It depends on where his priorities lie at this stage in the season.

Ganna’s major goals are the Olympic TT and individual pursuit, and his early-spring fade may be a pre-planned easing of the accelerator rather than a sudden loss of form. But after winning the first pink jersey in Palermo last October, surely if there’s any pre-Olympic race that Ganna wants to win, it’s the short blast through Turin on Saturday. Don’t write him off.

What it would mean: With 55 home riders in the peloton, Italian accents will dominate the peloton this month. However, with doubts over the form of long-time hero Vincenzo Nibali, home fans will be stacking their hopes behind their young time trial talisman. Victory for Ganna on Saturday would kick-start the race the right way and see a few more Il Tricolore flooding the streets for the next few days at least.

Will Ineos Grenadiers want the pink jersey in its ranks so early into the Giro?

The first shuffle of the GC deck is likely to come in the hilly fourth stage into Sestola next Tuesday, and the team would have to take control of the Giro’s nervy opening stages while keeping Egan Bernal and Pavel Sivakov upright. But if any team is likely to welcome that pressure, it’s Dave Brailsford’s wrecking crew.

João Almeida: (Deceuninck-Quick-Step)

Almeida held the pink jersey for much of last year’s Giro, but lost it when it mattered most. Photo: Stuart Franklin/Getty Images

Season TT palmarès: 1 x 3rd, 2 x top-10s

João Almeida may not be the strongest climber in the GC pack, but he sure is the best on a time trial bike.

The Portuguese talent heads into this year’s Giro as one of the key contenders for the overall victory, and his strength against the clock makes for an ace up his sleeve against the likes of Simon Yates and Egan Bernal.

Almeida punched into the top-6 of all three of the Giro’s time trials last year, and the seconds he gained were key to his fourth-place finish on GC. With such a swathe of pure climbers to battle against in the mountainous final week, 22-year-old Almeida will have to make every second count when down in his skis this month. Even a few seconds over the 8.6kms in Turin could pay dividends three weeks down the line.

What it would mean: A pink jersey in Turin on Saturday could be a blessing and a curse for Almeida. Who doesn’t want to be leading a grand tour? But having responsibility for controlling the race this early and with a slate of tricky stages in the opening week, Deceuninck-Quick-Step would have a heavy burden before the race has even started rolling.

If Quick-Step learned anything during Almeida’s 15 days in pink last fall, it’s that having the jersey at the end of the race is what counts.

Rémi Cavagna: (Deceuninck-Quick-Step)

He’s got a French national champion’s jersey, and wants a rainbow jersey this September. How about a pink jersey too? Photo: Luc Claessen/Getty Images

Season TT palmarès: 1 x 1st, 2 x 2nd, 1 x top-10

Rémi Cavagna is nicknamed “the TGV of Clermont-Ferrand” for a reason.

The French TT champ has emerged as one of the fastest on a time trial bike this season during his repeated duels with the likes of Primož Roglič and Stefan Bissegger, and could be the top favorite for the first pink jersey of the Giro. The 25-year-old rolls down the start ramp in Turin hot off the back of a convincing victory in the final TT of last week’s Tour de Romandie in what could prove a perfectly planned peak after twice narrowly missing out this season.

Cavagna has big dreams of world and Olympic titles, and a pink jersey is no doubt also on the Frenchman’s ambitious list.

Cavagna vs Ganna could become a storyline you become used to hearing this season – who will tick off the first big box in Turin?

What it would mean: Cavagna has steadily clawed his way to the top of the TT scene through the past seasons, and a triumph in Turin would stamp his ticket as one of the greats.

Seeing the Frenchman in pink could also be a win-win for Deceuninck-Quick-Step. Cavagna is no GC contender, and so the team could happily sit back through the opening week and let other teams take control of the chaotic opening stages while they keep young guns João Almeida and Remco Evenepoel safe in the wheels.

Victor Campenaerts (Qhubeka Assos)

Victor Campenaerts is a super dark horse for the TT, but it would be a major coup for his team if he pulls it off. Photo: John Berry/Getty Images

Season TT palmarès: 1 x 30th

It’s been a while since Victor Campenaerts was at his former TT best, and his last victory against the clock was way back in March 2019. However, the burly Belgian seems at his best when full of espresso and home-rolled pasta, three times finishing second in recent Giro time trials, and he remains a dark-horse contender for the maglia rosa Saturday.

Maybe that elusive Giro stage win is just around the corner for the reigning hour record holder. Campenaerts is one of the few to be blessed with a two-year deal at the struggling Qhubeka Assos team and so will be looking to prove he’s worth every dollar after such a long dry spell.

Another big question is – will he be wearing socks?

What it would mean: Campenaerts landing the pink jersey would be a huge win for Team Qhubeka Assos. Since the squad reformed from the ashes of NTT Pro Cycling this winter, Giacomo Nizzolo has led the charge, scooping the sole victory of the season so far.  A pink jersey this weekend would make for a result that would put the squad on cloud-9 for weeks to come.

Remco Evenepoel (Deceuninck-Quick-Step)

Evenepoel sure knows how to TT. But can he do it after an eight-month layoff?. Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images

Season palmarès: n/a

What to expect from young prodigy Remco Evenepoel at this year’s Giro? Who knows.

The Turin TT will be the 21-year-old’s first race in eight months after his crash last summer, and nobody knows where his form will be. But when Remco’s right, he’s one of the best time trialists in the peloton. Second in the 2019 world championships and victories at his two TTs before injury last year is no mean feat for a rider not long out of high school.

It’s hard to imagine Evenepoel being able to crank out the huge watts that took him to a silver medal in Harrogate, but he’s indicated he’s going all-in for the opening stage Saturday.

Evenepoel has got nothing to lose, and a whole lot to win. Be sure to tune in for Evenepoel’s race against the clock Saturday.

What it would mean: Remco’s back, baby! (For a few days, at least.)

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