PALERMO, Italy: World champion Filippo Ganna produced a flying performance on Saturday (Sunday in Manila) to win the Giro d’Italia’s opening day time-trial in Palermo and claim the 21-day race’s first pink jersey as overall leader.

Ganna pink with delight after taking first Giro dItalia stage - Ganna pink with delight after taking first Giro d’Italia stage
Filippo Ganna AFP PHOTO

The 24-year-old Ganna’s Team Ineos captain Geraint Thomas was fourth on the day, completing the tricky 15.1km inner-city course more than a minute faster than most of his pre-race rivals for the overall title.

On his first Grand Tour, former track specialist Ganna — on home soil — was the man to beat on Saturday (Sunday in Manila) after winning the individual world time-trial title a week ago.

Ganna completed the slightly downhill 15.1km in a furious 15min 24sec, or at an average speed of 58.831km/h, just slightly outside the Giro stage speed record set almost 20 years ago in Pescara by Rik Verbrugghe.

Still wearing his world time-trial winner’s rainbow shirt the 1.93m-tall (6ft 4in) rider slipped on the Giro leader’s pink jersey presented by the mayor of Palermo.

“Both these jerseys are wonderful, but maybe this one, here today, feels better,” said Ganna with a huge smile.

“Today I knew was one of the hot favourites but I tried to stay calm. We did it, what a great result and what a thrill to wear the ‘Maglia Rosa’ on my first Giro, which is a good omen for the rest of the race.”

– Thomas too fast? –

2018 Tour de France champion Thomas went down the ramp earlier than many key rivals and completed his race in less windy conditions.

He goes into Sunday’s second stage across the Sicilian valleys 26 seconds ahead of Simon Yates, over a minute faster than Trek-Segafredo’s double Giro champion Vincenzo Nibali, and more than 1min 20sec ahead of Steven Kruijswijk of Jumbo-Visma and Astana’s Jakob Fuglsang.

But there was a hint Thomas may have ridden the stage too fast, and could end up paying the price later in the epic three-week test of endurance.

“I think I was a bit too aggressive to start as in the last two kilometres I started losing the legs a bit,” Thomas admitted. “I definitely emptied the tank.

“I’d seen a few guys had crashed. There were definitely no risks. I can still be pretty happy with how it went,” added the 34-year-old Welshman.

A third Ineos rider, Australia’s Rohan Dennis, was also fancied for Saturday’s stage but finished 26sec adrift of Thomas, although the former time-trial specialist may be keeping his powder dry for challenges deeper into the race.

“I’m thinking about 21 stages, not one,” said Dennis.

Master-tactician Nibali also brushed off his own deficit.

“I’m happy with that. Hats off to Thomas, but let’s see what happens over the coming stages,” said the Italian.

Under overcast skies with wind scattering leaves across the sometimes less than perfect road surfaces, Colombian Miguel Angel Lopez hit a bump and flew sideways crashing straight through metal barriers and into a shop front before being taken away in an ambulance.

Lopez, a stage winner on this year’s Tour de France, was at the race to support Fuglsang’s Giro bid, which is now doubly compromised even at this early stage after the Colombian’s withdrawal.

“That was a day to forget,” said Fuglsang. “Above all I hope Miguel Angel Lopez makes a full recovery. We shall miss him. It was a hard time-trial made difficult by the wind, but maybe we’ll have better luck down the line.”

Astana team doctor Serge Niamke later added Lopez had suffered no fractures, although he underwent surgery to repair a “deep wound very close to the iliac arteria… which will heal in the upcoming weeks”.

Sicily stepped in to host the first four days of the Giro after original hosts Budapest pulled out when the coronavirus crisis exploded in March.

Sunday’s 149km run from Alcamo to Agrigento will likely be less windy and finishes with 5km of uphill racing that will again leave some interesting gaps between the various challengers.

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