Roglič shows his class as Conti snatches the maglia rosa

Italian Valerio Conti currently leads Roglič by just over a minute following a successful breakaway effort on Stage 6. Photo credit: OA Sport

SAN MARINO - Hot Giro d’Italia favourite Primož Roglič oozed class as he continued his fantastic early season form to win two stages in the opening week of the grand tour. Coming into the Giro having won every stage race he has started so far this year, Roglič stamped his authority on the race in the very first stage, blowing his closest competitors away over a short but punchy opening 8-kilometre time trial in Bologna.

 The stage ended with a brutal 2-kilometre climb up to the Santuario di San Luca, riders navigating gradients of over 15 per cent in a lung-busting final effort up to the line. It was here that Roglič really came into his own, eeking out an unexpectedly large 19-second lead over fellow general classification [GC] contender Simon Yates, with Italian Vincenzo Nibali a further four seconds back in third.

 Roglič’s potency both against the clock and on the climbs was plain to see, and Roglič was quick to dispel any remaining doubters at the end of the first week when he repeated the trick in the longer 34.8-kilometre time trial to San Marino in which he simply proved far too much yet again for his rivals. Only European time trial champion Victor Campenaerts could come close, losing out by 11 seconds after a botched bike change saw him lose close to half a minute, a first grand tour victory painfully slipping through his fingers.

 Campanaerts, though, is unlikely to challenge overall and those who are lost considerable chunks of time over the climb to course’s hilltop finish. Nibali came in 1 minute 5 seconds down, Dutchman Bob Jungels a further 11 seconds adrift, while Yates, who imploded spectacularly in the closing stages of last year’s Giro to lose the maglia rosa he had dominated for two and a half weeks with only three days to go, suffered a similar collapse as he rolled in over three minutes down on Roglič, leaving himself a mountain to climb if he is to get close to the jersey that has so far eluded him.

 Despite his dominance, however, Roglič has not gone into the first rest day in the leader’s jersey as he and other GC favourites let a breakaway on stage 6 slip away to victory. The move was undoubtedly tactical as it reduces the pressure on Roglič’s team with two weeks still to race, but the decision has inadvertently left the race far more interesting as the beneficiary of the decision was Italy’s Valerio Conti.

 Conti, the first Italian to wear the maglia rosa in over three years, now stands atop the classification by over a minute and is likely to hold onto the jersey until at least stage 13 when the peloton hit the mountains for the first time. Italy then had more to cheer about as local talent Fausto Masnada snatched victory on the same day Conti moved into the leader’s jersey to give the home crowd a first Italian victory in the 2019 edition of the race.

 Italian fans, however, will be have been left disappointed by the performances of sprinter Elia Viviani. Pipped to the line by Pascal Ackermann in stage 2, Viviani seemed to have been vindicated the following day as he surged clear to snatch victory, only to have his achievement rescinded after he was adjudged to have impeded a fellow rider in the sprint. The decision was unsurprisingly unpopular, and it seems to have taken the stuffing out of the Italian who has been unable to put up any serious fight since. Furthermore, with only three flat stages left in this year’s race, his chances of tasting stage success this year are rapidly running out.

 Riders will now take on a few rolling stages before hitting two of the Giro’s most brutal days in the mountains, the second of which includes over 4,000 metres of climbing in a relatively short 131-kilometre stage up to Courmayeur in the Aosta Valley. This will likely prove a telling day for GC contenders, and test Roglič’s grand tour mettle for the first time. Nibali and co will hope to find their legs on Monday’s rest day and put up a stronger challenge to the imperious Roglič.