The 106th “Corsa Rosa” is now underway. On the Abruzzo coast this Saturday, it all started with a time trial of nearly twenty kilometres. Among the favorites for the day, Stefan Küng, just like the rest of the field, was unable to compete with Remco Evenepoel in this opening act, but he still secured a solid top-5 at the finish. With his French champion jersey, Bruno Armirail (11th) missed the top-10 for just two seconds. The race is on for three weeks!

“It bodes well for the rest of the race”, Bruno Armirail

The 2023 Grand Tours season began this Saturday, May 6, on the Italian coast, between Fossacesia Marina and Ortona. The first pink jersey battle was set to take place on a circuit almost entirely designed by the sea. 19,6 kilometres made up the opening individual time trial, with 16,5 flat kilometres before a climb of 1200 meters averaging 5% then a last drag to the finish line. The Groupama-FDJ team was fully committed on this first day of racing. “We approached this time trial in a very serious and focused way”, explained Julien Pinot. “Three riders especially had to do it at 100%: Bruno, Thibaut and Stefan. We did good recons, all the equipment was excellent, and the effort plan was adjusted to everyone in order to aim for the best possible performance”. Before the trio set off, Fabian Lienhard, Ignatas Konovalovas, Jake Stewart, Lars van den Berg and Rudy Molard completed the course one after the other in just over twenty-four minutes. Bruno Armirail showed up on the ramp at 3:52 p.m., and was immediately up to speed. The French time trial champion took second in the first and second intermediate points, before slipping into provisional third place at the finish. “I think I did a good time trial until the bottom of the climb, but the climb was still quite hard after having done the rest full-gas,” he said. “I struggled a bit on the final climb, but the legs are still alright, which bodes well for the rest of the race”.

With a time of 22’15, the Frenchman was completely reassured, then Thibaut Pinot completed his ride in 23 minutes and one second. “It was very hard, and it went very very fast”, said the climber from Melisey. “It was made for powerful riders, you had to push the big gear. It’s always hard for me when there’s a time trial on the first day, but I’m very happy that this Giro has finally started, and I hope to have good legs in the mountains later on to do something”. Last member of the team on the course, and obviously the best card, Stefan Küng started between Remco Evenepoel, Primoz Roglic and Filippo Ganna. Although the Swiss rider was able to get closer to the previous best marks, he could not however keep up with the Belgian prodigy, who left no chance for the competition on Saturday. The latter set a time of 21’18, twenty-two seconds ahead of his runner-up Ganna, and forty-three seconds ahead of Stefan Küng, who finally took fifth in this opening day. “I tried to prepare myself properly for this Giro after the Classics”, commented Stefan at the finish. “I did my best today, but Remco showed his strength on a course that suited him very well. I couldn’t have an impact on the stage victory fight. I had two or three issues during my preparation, but that’s not what makes me lose all those seconds. Next Sunday, the course of the second time trial will suit me better. It’s another opportunity, and until then, there are also plenty of stages. Anyway, the Giro is launched”.

“Evenepoel was hard to beat today”, Julien Pinot

Groupama-FDJ therefore completed this opening stage with a fifth place for its former double European champion, and an eleventh position for Bruno Armirail. “For Stefan, the goal was to win against a world championship-kind of field,” added Julien Pinot. “Over the last 3-4 years, he sometimes beat them, and they sometimes beat him. Today, Evenepoel showed a very high level, and he was hard to beat even with a Stefan in top form. The fact that Evenepoel dominated so much the time trial makes us a bit less disappointed. We were obviously aiming for better than fifth place, but it’s still a promising effort. There was a big competition, and there is still a good chance for Stefan in nine days. The preparation for the Giro was also a race against the clock for him after Roubaix. He was going well, but you had to be 100% to just be on the podium. As for Bruno, he achieved an excellent performance. He is a bit frustrated not to enter the top-10 (11th for 2 seconds, editor’s note) and is not that far from the top-5 either. It’s a strong time trial for him, which bodes well for a good Giro, where he will have an important role for our leaders. As for Thibaut, he set a decent time, even a little better than some he has done over the past two or three seasons. For the GC, Almeida, Geoghegan Hart and Roglic also took a gap, but we knew we were going to lose time on the first two time trials. On the other hand, he is closer to other climbers like Caruso, Uran, Arensman or Haig”.

After this first fight between time trialists and overall contenders, the sprinters are expected on Sunday in San Salvo, after 202 kilometres.

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