Primoz is primo – a recap of stages 1-9 of the 2019 Giro d’Italia

Primoz Roglic hits the climb (all images via YouTube)

The first week of the 2019 Giro d’Italia was (a) nine days long and (b) bookended by time trials with uphill finishes.

Those two stages were the most important with regards to sorting the riders into some sort of hierarchy (which, let’s be honest, is pretty much what these three weeks are all about) but there were a couple of significant events on the ostensibly straightforward stages in between too.

Primoz Roglic hits the ground cycling

The opening time trial was completely flat for 6km and then completely uphill for 2km to the finish.

It was an unusually brutal climb for day one and unusually full-on for a time trial too. It was the kind of steep where momentum is no longer a meaningful concept; where the riders moved forwards in staccato steps with each downward pedal stroke, coming to a momentary standstill between each one.

It’s a challenge to pace yourself on something like that. “I felt so good and then all of a sudden the devil came and whacked me with a big hammer,” reflected Team Ineos’s Tao Geoghegan Hart, who finished seventh.

Geoghegan Hart’s performance fell in the ‘well that went basically okay’ category. His team-mate Pavel Sivakov lost over a minute, as did Mikel Landa, while Ilnur Zakarin lost 1m20s. In just 15 minutes of riding, our cast list had already been divided into two tiers.

Or maybe three because one man was all out on his own. Primoz Roglic looked like someone who had more energy than he could actually use. Pushing the pedals as hard as he could, turning them as quickly as possible, there was simply no danger that his effort would be unsustainable.

He finished 19 seconds faster than his closest rival, Simon Yates, and went so fast that poor Hiroki Nishimura finished outside the time limit. On stage one. In an 8km time trial.

The midweek melee

The early stages of a Grand Tour generally follow the horror film template where major characters are picked off one by one.

Geoghegan Hart was merely maimed on stage three, losing a minute and a half after being held up by a crash with 5km to go.

Mikel Landa suffered a similar fate on stage four. Asked by Spanish sports daily AS what had happened, he said: “That fucking Yates. He’s mentally retarded. He rides like a madman and he made me fall.” (He later apologised for the comments.)

The big news was Tom Dumoulin’s withdrawal though. The 2017 winner crashed on the same stage as Landa and bust his knee.

“My plan now is the same as after every Grand Tour,” he told Cycling News, “pizza and beer first.”

Stage six saw Roglic voluntarily surrender the race lead. His team allowed 12 unthreatening riders to gain seven minutes in a breakaway, confident that they’ll all fall by the wayside come the mountains later in the race.

And that was about it for the unusually flat and unusually unchallenging bunch of road stages that made up most of the first week. It was time trial time again.

Primoz Roglic maintains speed

Fabio Ferrari / LaPresse

How much had Primoz Roglic tired over the course of the first week? Not really at all. He won the second time trial by a hefty margin.

Time trial specialist Victor Campenaerts finished within seconds of him – and probably would have won but for a shitty bike change – but no-one else got within a minute of the Slovenian.

Bauke Mollema (who probably warrants promotion to our cast list in place of Tom Dumoulin) came third, exactly a minute behind. Vincenzo Nibali was at 1m05s and Bob Jungels was at 1m16s, but pretty much everybody else lost two minutes or more.

Yates, for example – who’d been second in the previous time trial – finished a somewhat debilitating 3m11s back.

Roglic gave us an insight into his idiosyncratic approach afterwards.

“I rode as fast as possible to the top,” he said.

Where does that leave us? Is Roglic going to win the Giro easily?

The general classification is pretty striking at this early stage. If we pick out the most likely overall contenders, Roglic has 1m40s on Nibali, 1m50s on Mollema and then the gaps just get bigger and bigger.

There’s two schools of thought here.

(1) Roglic is too good, too soon and he’s only really been tested in time trials so far

(2) Roglic is way better than everyone and has a track record of finishing Grand Tours strongly

In support of (1), this year’s Giro is – to employ a football cliché – a game of two halves. The first 11 stages feature no mountains and two time trials, while eight of the final 10 stages are extremely-hilly-to-mountainous.

Roglic can’t have hit the form he has without some pretty heavy training and it could well be that he’s carried too much fatigue into the race. If he has, that could really start to tell after a few long bastard climbs.

The week ahead

Tuesday – impossibly flat

Wednesday – flat

Thursday – one long, steep climb plus a tricky finish

Friday – summit finish

Saturday – shortish intense mountain stage with zero flat road

Sunday – 232km with a flat start and a hilly finish