Cycling fans can be as fickle as the sport itself.
At the first time check, 16.8 km into the 2023 Giro d’Italia, following an eight-month absence of Grand Tour racing, some declared the first three-week stage race of the season already over, as Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) stopped the mid-race clock 26 seconds slower than rival Remco Evenepoel (Soudal-QuickStep) had done moments earlier.
The road world champion, his rainbow jersey now encased by the pink of the maglia rosa, did look imperious. Already nearly a full kilometre per hour faster than stage runner-up and Hour Record holder Filippo Ganna before the 19.6km-long course had even tilted uphill, his 43 second advantage over Roglič is an early show of intent as he chases the follow-up to his Vuelta victory.
Some were wondering whether Roglič had succumbed to the illness and Covid-19 lurking in the Jumbo-Visma camp, resulting in a decimated Dutch squad, or whether ghosts of La Planche des Belles Filles had resurfaced. But after the finish line we received the verdict from the man himself, and either he’s bluffing, rode a different TT to the uncomfortable-looking one we had just witnessed, or truly counts losing only 43 seconds to Evenepoel as a decent result given the Belgian’s superlative talents.
“It was hard but it’s now behind [me] so I’m happy,” the Slovenian answered in his post-race interview.
“How were the legs?” Came the next question.
“Actually good, I’m super happy.
“I mean, for me it was just to go my best, I did, I’m happy about it. 20 stages to go.”
The reminder that the vast majority of the bike race still lies ahead is quintessential Roglič, a walking hyperbole remedy consisting of machine-like pedal thumpers for legs accessorised with Garmin-stopping finish line celebrations.
If we look at Roglič and Evenepoel’s previous career head-to-head time trial results, the result is a fairly even split, with Roglič having finished ahead in four out of their seven meetings against the clock. However, with Evenepoel still a young rider, and only having truly matured into his current prominence within the last 12 or so months, the pair’s only other Grand Tour time trial meeting other than today can give us more insight into Roglič’s positive outlook.
Last year’s Vuelta a España time trial, a flatter yet longer affair at 30.9 km in length, saw Evenepoel put 48 seconds into Roglič as he added a chunk of time to his red jersey lead.
With a time trial of that length due in a week’s time, and considering the gap Evenepoel took out of Roglič today, we could see the added motivation for the Slovenian of not being caught on the road by the Belgian. While Evenepoel has shot out of the blocks, it seems like Roglič will play the tortoise to the Belgian’s hare, the Giro a much different beast to the Vuelta. The Slovenian is seemingly content to limit his losses and see how the still-23-year-old fares in the tough final week, where he could attempt a Vingegaard-esque smash and grab to peel a leader’s jersey off a dominant opponent.
Either way, the stage has been set, and the narrative threads begin to unspool, yet one rider very much focused on the job at hand, currently sitting fourth on GC after a strong TT effort, and not yet open to indulging the Italian romanticism of the Giro d’Italia, is Tao Geoghegan Hart.
“You look kind of sad,” one Italian reporter asked the Brit. “I don’t know, maybe you’re just tired because it’s a massive effort, as it always is, in the time trial?”
“Nah, neither, I’m just calm, mate,” Geoghegan Hart replied coolly. “It’s just stage one, it’s three weeks to go. You might be excited but we riders have to recover.”
The next three weeks will see legs and mouths moving to create this Grand Tour, and Roglič will hope the talking his mouth did post-stage was truer than what his legs said in his first fight with Remco Evenepoel.
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