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The inward turn

08/05/2021

Ganna wins and the Giro starts well for Ineos Grenadiers and Deceuninck – Quick-Step.

Mounted on the highest-tech children’s toy in Turin, Filippo Ganna once again proved himself  a master. The pressure, the knowledge his every move was being scrutinised, the presence of his rival Remco Evenepoel – his vanquisher in the time trial at San Juan in January 2020 – just one minute ahead of him: he allowed none of this to distort his perception or dent his mental discipline.

Beneath the smothering helmet, behind the visor, the time trial is an orgy of violence turned inwards on the self. In the words of Edoardo Affini, who set the best time 27 minutes after his teammate Tobias Foss, and kept it for three minutes short of an hour until Ganna’s astonishing performance, “You have to destroy yourself. You have to push yourself over the limit. It’s really intense, and it’s really hard for the body to take it.”

Even those whose physique is robust enough are faced with the technical problem of aligning the sensual, lived experience of time with the mechanical or technological means we use to measure it. After all, we know what it is to race against the clock, when the seconds speed ahead of our perception, and we find time running short. As children, we all faced those vast expanses of time, hours that felt like slow-moving icebergs that refuse to pass, while we wait for some special occasion to come: the end of a long journey, the arrival of a loved one, time to open our presents! Adulthood itself, in these modern times, can almost be defined by the learned ability to bring together time as we experience it and time as it is measured: at least, in our productive lives. Our computer screens, with the hour showing permanently top left, remind us that we are constantly on the clock. But, even in our years of self-assured maturity, time can suddenly slow in moments of great stress, or quicken when we are racing against it.

Filippo Ganna pushed through the tidal pull of these tendencies, and, with machine-like perfection, achieved a paradoxical triumph that owed as much to improvisation and the inner child. “We started with one little radio, but it didn’t work at all. So I said, “Listen, Filippo; go full gas, and listen to the people at the side of the road. If they shout your name loudly, it means you are going fast enough. It worked: and this amazing victory is the result.”

It made him the first athlete to win four consecutive time trials at the Giro since Francesco Moser won in 1984 in Lucca (prologue), Milan and Verona and then in Verona again (prologue) in 1985. If Ganna wins the final stage in Milan, he will set a new record sequence. And not even Eddy Merckx won four time trials at the Giro before his 25th birthday.

Aside from the specialists immersed in time lords’ discipline, Deceuninck – Quick-Step’s GC hopes Almeida and Evenepoel, fourth and seventh in the stage, and supported with a team that Enric Mas or Dan Martin could never have hoped for, came out of it best.

It was the best time trial in Aleksandr Vlasov’s career to date: eleventh in the stage, he conceded just seven seconds to Almeida and five to Evenepoel, and emerges from the experience an even more credible contender.

Pozzovivo, Formolo and Sivakov all finished within 19 seconds of Almeida, with Martínez, Carthy, Yates, Bernal, Nibali, Bennett and Mollema separated by no more than five seconds. Emanuel Buchmann and Dan Martin lost rather more – although those mislaid seconds will seem insignificant by week three.

In short, an impressive start by Deceuninck – Quick-Step’s pair. Ineos Grenadiers took the stage win, and put six riders, three of them realistic GC contenders – Sivakov, Martínez and Bernal – within 22 seconds of João Almeida. The Giro has started well for both teams.

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