Time trial gives Evenepoel instant chance to remedy Giro d’Italia setback – Analysis
Within minutes of losing ground for the first time on this Giro d’Italia in Fossombrone, Remco Evenepoel (Soudal-QuickStep) was already sitting aboard his time trial bike. He would have used the machine for his warm-down regardless of the result, of course, but now it doubled as a way of parking Saturday’s disappointment and looking forward to the opportunity presented by the stage 9 time trial to Cesena.
After conceding 14 seconds to Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma), Tao Geoghegan Hart and Geraint Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers) on the steep slopes of I Cappuccini, Evenepoel returns to the rather friendlier confines of the time trial on Sunday. The 35km course is almost entirely flat and devoid of any real technical difficulties. Raw power and pure aerodynamics will win the day, and Evenepoel scores better than most on each score.
After his exhibition in the opening time trial in Ortona, Evenepoel is the obvious favourite for stage victory, not least because Filippo Ganna (Ineos Grenadiers) has withdrawn due to a case of COVID-19. Evenepoel is also expected to re-take the maglia rosa, given that he lies just eight seconds off Andreas Leknessund. The only question, it seems, is how much time the Belgian will gain on everybody else.
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When Evenepoel scorched to the first pink jersey of the race in Ortona, his dominance was total. The margin of victory was imposing, but so too was its manner. The impact on his rivals’ morale was surely exacerbated when stories began circulating in the Belgian press that Evenepoel wore short sleeves in the time trials because his bare skin was supposedly more aerodynamic than the most advanced forearms. He is not, it seems, a rider like any other.
Evenepoel gained 2.19 seconds per kilometre on Roglič on the opening stage, and if he can replicate that performance here, he would pick up another 1:16 on the Slovenian. On Saturday evening, Evenepoel all but confirmed that this was his target for stage 9. “I want to strike again in the time trial,” he said. “I picked up 43 seconds [on Roglič] the last time. I hope to get at least as many here.”
While Evenepoel is the consensus favourite to win the stage, not everybody is convinced that his gains in Cesena will be as striking as the buffer he amassed on the opening day. Bora-Hansgrohe directeur sportif Enrico Gasparotto believes the accumulated fatigue of the first week could place a limit on the differences on Sunday.
“Remco will certainly do a great time trial in Cesena, and he’ll probably win it,” Gasparotto told Cyclingnews. “But it comes after nine days of racing and not after a rest day like last year’s Vuelta time trial in Alicante. I think he’ll win, and he’ll get a bit more of a gap, but I think – or at least I hope – the gap won’t be three minutes. I don’t think that will happen.”
That idea was echoed by Stefan Küng (Groupama-FDJ), who is one of the few riders rolling down the start ramp with the stated aim of stage victory. The Swiss rider was prominent in teeing Thibaut Pinot up on the climb of Calascio on Friday, but he looked to spare himself on stage 8 ahead of the time trial.
“It’s a whole other story to the first time trial, because Evenepoel was on the ground several times and I think he’s spent more energy than someone like me, who was able to finish very calmly on some stages,” said Küng. “Of course, he’s a very strong and it will be very difficult to beat him – but there is hope.”
While Ineos manager Rod Ellingworth has almost resigned himself to the idea that Geraint Thomas and Tao Geoghegan Hart would concede time to Evenepoel, Jumbo-Visma directeur sportif Addy Engels was slightly more optimistic about Roglič’s prospects.
“Based on the first TT, it’s likely that he’ll lose time, but it’s very hard to predict,” Engels told Cyclingnews. “It’s useless to predict, in fact, because it has no influence on the preparation for the TT. There’s just one goal, to go as fast as possible from A to B and then in the evening we’ll see how it is.”
Evenepoel came to Italy to reconnoitre the time trial in November, and he declared himself encouraged by what he had seen. The 35km run from Savignano sul Rubicone to Cesena is almost entirely flat and devoid of any particularly demanding corners, though the expected wet weather adds an unwelcome layer of complication to the parcours. “With the forecast of rain, it’s going to be more difficult,” Küng warned.
Whatever the conditions, however, Evenepoel is the overwhelming favourite for the Cesena test. After a rare setback in Fossombrone on Saturday, the time trial offers an immediate chance for him to retrieve the lost seconds. It would be a surprise if he didn’t take it.
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