UAE Team Emirates‘ hopes of offering a powerful collective challenge to Remco Evenepoel (Soudal-QuickStep) and the other Giro d’Italia GC contenders were boosted considerably on Saturday in the opening individual time trial.
UAE came away with an excellent third place for João Almeida, who wore pink through 15 stages of the 2020 Giro d’Italia, as well as top ten finishes for teammates Jay Vine and Brandon McNulty.
Evenepoel easily provided the top individual performance of the 19.6-kilometre opening TT but, in terms of the overall battle, all the signs are that UAE are clearly very much in the running.
Asked if his opening ride had been beyond his expectations, Almeida gave a typically diplomatic answer of “yes, a little bit.”
“I know my abilities but I was a bit surprised with the time I did. The team has been doing some good work, though, so we are really happy with it.”
As for Evenepoel’s crushing display of time trial power – winning with a 22 second advantage to Filippo Ganna (Ineos Grenadiers) and 29 seconds to Almeida – the 24-year-old rider from Portugal recognised that the Belgian’s performance had gone above and beyond what could have been anticipated.
“I was expecting him to win, but it was a really big margin, even better than I thought, so congratulations to him, he deserved to get it,” said Almeida. “For us it’s important to start in a good way, and then let the race flow, so we’re in a pretty good position.”
McNulty briefly spent some time in the hot seat as provisional stage leader, but admitted that he did not have a clear idea of how his performance would eventually stack up to the rest of the field.
As it was he ended up as the leader of the mountains classification, after turning in the fastest ride for the fourth category ascent that concluded the time trial, ahead of Tao Geoghegan Hart (Ineos Grenadiers) and Almeida.
“It was really good, I had good legs but I wasn’t sure where I’d end up, and the top 10 is quite nice,” McNulty said.
“I was quite surprised to be honest that they said I’d got the KoM jersey, after I was in the hot seat I had to wait around for it. I was surprised, but it’s nice to have a jersey to wear to go into tomorrow.”
“I knew I had to pace myself well and go hard on the climb, but I didn’t really expect to be the fastest. It’s funny.”
Rather than aiming at the Giro d’Italia overall in any case, McNulty said he was looking at other options. “I’d like to go…
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