The modern era has been unkind to the time triallists, with fewer events. A shame, given that Filippo Ganna is one of the best ever

- Writer Edward Pickering Image Getty Images

We are living in the age of the allrounder. For the first time since the 1980s, on the men’s side, the best riders in the world are generally the best riders in the world in almost any race. Tadej Pogacar wins monuments and grand tours, and so does Primož Roglic; Mathieu van der Poel wins cyclo-cross races and classics; so does Wout van Aert, except he also wins bunch sprints and time trials. There has been a renaissanc­e of Renaissanc­e men. (On the women’s side of the sport, this has always been the case - the same riders win the Giro Rosa and Tour of Flanders, for example, and Marianne Vos is arguably the most complete all-round champion there has ever been.)

Where does this leave the specialist­s? The sprinters might argue that this trend leaves them with slim pickings. And it’s even worse for the time triallists. During the 1970s and 1980s, it was normal for a Tour de France to include three or four time trials, and the 1990s had such long individual tests that the race was dominated by Miguel Indurain, a rider whose main strength was time trialling, even if the results of the 1990s weren’t just a function of unimaginat­ive route design. But these days, the grand tours have cut individual time trials drasticall­y. The last time the race was defined by its long time trials was in 2012, when Bradley Wiggins won, though some of Chris Froome’s later wins were also largely helped by his superiorit­y against the clock. Next year’s Tour has 53km of time trials spread over two tests, one of 13km and one of 40km, and this is seen as one of the more favourable recent routes.

This is a shame for Filippo Ganna, who is emerging as the greatest time triallist of his generation. The Italian has just won his second consecutiv­e world title in the discipline, and has never been defeated in a Giro time trial (five wins over two races). The three he picked up in the 2020 event came in the middle of a hot streak in which he won eight time trials in a row. It’s not quite a record - Tony Martin managed 10 on the trot spread over 2012 and 2013, but Ganna is still only 25 and may beat that.

Ganna is a rare time trial specialist, probably one of the only ones in the peloton. His biggest rivals are Van Aert, Remco Evenepoel, Roglic, Stefan Küng, Rohan Dennis, maybe Kasper Asgreen and Tom Dumoulin, if the latter’s comeback from a break from cycling continues. Of these riders, most also multitask - Evenepoel has won more road races than time trials, Roglic and Van Aert contend everywhere, and Asgreen’s primary focus is the classics. Dumoulin spent most of his career as a grand tour contender. Only Küng and Dennis really specialise and focus on time trials to a similar degree to Ganna.

But for Ganna it isn’t just a case of waiting for the increasing­ly rare time trials to come along. He is probably the Ineos Grenadiers’ most effective team rider - Egan Bernal’s serene progress through the 2021 was largely a result of Ganna barging the race aside for the Colombian’s benefit. Bernal delivered the coup de grâce by attacking and gaining time on all his rivals on the strade bianche stage to Montalcino, but that move was built on the foundation of Ganna absolutely ripping the race to shreds on one of the earlier sterrato sections. When we were treated to the sight of the Giro splitting into echelons after a climb on another stage, it was Ganna doing the damage. The Italian is one of the few riders in the peloton, along with the very best, like Pogacar, Van Aert, Van der Poel and Roglic, who can bend a whole race to his will, even if the official UCI rankings are unkind to him. These four riders are all currently ranked in the top seven by the UCI, while Ganna, who can break a bunch up on his own in a way that even most entire teams can’t, is down in 54th place.

Ganna appears to have found his niche. He combines being the best time triallist in the world with being a valuable team member for Ineos Grenadiers and he also has a sideline in track racing, as demonstrat­ed by his Olympic gold medal in the team pursuit with Italy. He’s also talking about an hour record attempt, and there is plausible talk of him getting close to 57km (Victor Campenaert­s holds the current record of 55.089km). To underline how impressive 57km would be, it involves each kilometre taking just over 1:03, and the world kilometre record (albeit from a standing start, obviously) took until the 1980s to go above that speed.

It’s unlikely that Ganna will follow Miguel Indurain or even Tom Dumoulin into being a grand tour contender who started as a time trial specialist. He’s more likely to be able to be a contender in Paris-Roubaix. He may so far have two DNFs in the event, in 2018 and 2019, but he won the Under-23 version of the Queen of Classics in 2016.

Ganna, then, is the latest example of the modern time triallist, an archetype probably establishe­d with Britain’s Chris Boardman in the 1990s. Up to the 1980s,

For Ganna it isn’t just a case of waiting for time trials to come along. He is probably the Ineos Grenadiers’ most effective team rider

the best time triallists tended also to be the best riders - Coppi, Anquetil, Merckx, Hinault, LeMond, Fignon etc, and there were relatively few out-andout specialist­s, though a rider like Ole Ritter in the 1960s and 1970s could come along and win Giro time trials and set the hour record (before Merckx pulverised it). Boardman focused almost exclusivel­y on time trials and won 39 in total, including prologues, even though the first part of his career overlapped with the last years of Miguel Indurain’s. Boardman’s successor as best time triallist in the world was probably Jan Ullrich, who was more in the Indurain or Hinault mould of a good time triallist who won grand tours. The early 2000s saw Michael Rogers win three consecutiv­e world titles in the individual time trial, though he only won seven time trials in total in his entire career - when his TT powers waned in the second half of his career he became a super-domestique for Team Sky then Tinkoff. Then came the era of Fabian Cancellara, who is probably one of the best three or five time triallists there has ever been, and who also recorded wins in Milan-San Remo, the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix. Cancellara was succeeded by Tony Martin. And though Bradley Wiggins, Dennis and Dumoulin were all successful through the 2010s, Ganna looks like a more likely heir to Boardman, Cancellara and Martin as a rider who can absolutely dominate time trials. If only the grand tour organisers would give him more territory to work with.

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 ?? ?? Ganna did a demolition job on the 2021 Giro for his team leader and eventual winner Egan Bernal, including here on the sterrato roads stage
Ganna did a demolition job on the 2021 Giro for his team leader and eventual winner Egan Bernal, including here on the sterrato roads stage
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 ?? ?? Fabian Cancellara is one of the most successful time triallists in cycling history
Fabian Cancellara is one of the most successful time triallists in cycling history

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