And if all else fails, there is always Filippo Ganna on a time trial bike.
A stage of the Vuelta a España may not be the biggest win of the Italian rider’s career, nor the the most important race on the calendar, but it might have been the victory that the Ineos Grenadiers needed most, just in time.
The last week around Spain has not been kind to the British team. They were a man down from the very start of the race after Laurens de Plus fell victim to the treacherously slippery roads of Barcelona in that dreaded team time trial. Thymen Arensmen’s terrifying crash a few days later meant another big loss for the Grenadiers, while GC leader Geraint Thomas has been struggling throughout the race with subpar form, not helped by his own dates with the tarmac on multiple occasions.
Ganna himself has come through a hectic Vuelta so far relatively unscathed. In fact, the 27-year-old has been closer than any of his teammates to a stage win even before his favoured terrain on the time trial bike. His second place in stage five’s bunch sprint behind Kaden Groves shocked many, backed up by his ninth place a few days later in a technical run-in to Oliva, all without any real form of lead-out train at all.
After all that, there was talk about Filippo Ganna the bunch sprinter – would the Ineos Grenadiers refocus in a way none of us would have expected ahead of the race to try and set Ganna up with a sprint train to deliver him to the finish line? Did we need to start lining up Ganna as the biggest competitor to Groves, ahead of the rest of the usual fast men?
As the time trial in Valladolid rolled round, however, when all riders had a rest day to refocus and recover from this crazy opening week, a sort of normality seemed to be restored. That normality came in the form of Ganna, resplendent in his Italian tricolour and on his custom ‘Top Ganna’ white and blue Pinarello Bolide, absolutely obliterating the competition on a flat time trial.
It’s a sight that cycling fans have become used to by now. Ganna rolls down the start ramp and he somehow manoeuvres his broad frame into a narrow aero tuck, one that looks so uncomfortable yet so natural all at the same time. Once he’s underway, he makes it look easy, rolling the pedals with such fluidity and style, his head tucked low so that his face is obscured beneath his visor. He then sets the fastest time, this is almost inevitable when the course suits him and he’s on a good day, and walks over to the hot seat where he waits to see if anyone can beat him. Normally, they never do.
By virtue of his low placing on the general classification of this year’s Vuelta a España, Ganna set off early today, hours before the time trial world champion Remco Evenepoel would roll down the start ramp. This meant that the Italian was in the hot seat for hours, playing a waiting game. His time was very, very good and for a long time no other rider would be able to match the 55kph average speed Ganna held throughout his 27-minute effort.
When the GC men finally came, Evenepoel and Primož Roglič got as close to Ganna as anyone would today, with the Belgian finishing 15 seconds behind him and the Slovenian 36 seconds. Ganna watched and waited in the hot seat, humble and modest, not celebrating until the very last rider had crossed the finish line, even though he knew that his time would not be beaten.
A two-time world champion, Olympic gold medallist, six-time Giro d’Italia stage winner and now a Vuelta a España stage winner, Ganna’s palmarès are glittering. More impressive still is that the Italian is far more than just a time trial specialist: he can sprint, he can climb, he can perform pretty much whenever he is asked too, but he’s also gracious enough to do the work of a super-domestique as required by his team. Top Ganna, indeed. The superstar.
So now the Vuelta stage win is ticked off, it is added to Ganna’s ProCyclingStats and it is another feather in his cap, but that’s just one part of what this victory really means. With it comes a saving grace for the Ineos Grenadiers' disastrous Vuelta and it could, perhaps, serve as the morale boost that the team so desperately needs. The second week of the race has started on a much brighter note for Ineos than the first did and might just be a sign of better fortune awaiting.
They might be without any real hope of a strong finish on the overall general classification, but with Ganna they have a very real chance of even more stage victories. If the likes of Geraint Thomas can put the disappointment of the opening days of this Vuelta behind him, Ineos still have a strong team in this race with the power to make the difference. Ganna’s stage win could blow a much needed fresh lease of life into the bruised and battered bunch making up the British team, who will be desperately hoping this is the start of things finally going their way.