A gentleman took me to task on social media (where else?) the other day regarding an article I wrote about the devaluation of the individual pursuit as a World Championship discipline. Filippo Ganna had just won the world title for the first time when I wrote the piece, his victory was a little ‘out of the blue,’ it seemed to me.
My critic reckoned I hadn’t paid attention to the fact that Filippo Ganna had just broken the world four kilometre individual pursuit record with a stunning 4:02 ride at the first round of the World Cup in Minsk.
What my detractor hadn’t realised was that I’d actually written the piece in 2016 after Ganna’s first title win.
But it got me to thinking; I had been hard on the Italian, putting in print that perhaps Filippo Ganna would never rank among the all-time gallacticos of pursuiting like Faggin, Porter or Ørsted.
The big Italian is proving me wrong, with three golds and a silver in the Worlds at the discipline, not to mention an ever-growing stash of individual European medals and team medals at Euro and world level at the age of just 23 years.
I thought I’d go back and look at the man’s career from day one to where he is now; that’s one of the best chrono men and the best pursuit rider on the planet.
Hailing from beautiful Verbania in Piedmont on the shores of Lake Maggiore, in the fashion of the best athletes – like Taylor Phinney and Pavel Sivakov – he chose his parents well with dad Marco an Olympic rower for Italy.
He first appears on the palmarès radar in 2012 as Italian National Novices TT Champion.
A year later he’d moved on the podium of the Italian Junior TT Championships with a bronze medal.
By 2014 he’d swapped bronze for gold in the Italian Junior TT Champs and taken the national junior pursuit title to boot.
In addition he won the junior Chrono des Nations and placed fourth in the European and world junior TT races.
The 2015 season saw him in the colours of Viris Maserati for whom he won the prestigious, late season Chrono Champenois.
He was also given a stagiaire ride with World Tour team, Lampre but the 2016 season saw him in the colours of top Italian u23 and development team, Colpack.
This was the big breakthrough season.
On the road he won the u23 Paris-Roubaix, the national u23 time trial championship and was u23 European individual time trial championship silver medallist.
On the track there were silver medals in the Elite European individual and u23 and Elite European team pursuit championships.
And gold in the world pursuit championship.
I should have done more homework on Sen. Ganna before I’d reckoned he may be a ‘flash in the pan.’
The 2017 season saw him sign with World Tour UAE and take the European Elite individual pursuit title, silver in the European team pursuit champs and bronze in the Worlds at the same discipline.
But he abdicated his world individual title to Aussie fast man Jordan Kerby, coming away with silver.
As an aside, Kerby’s services were subsequently dispensed with by Australian management and he’s now riding in the colours of New Zealand, courtesy his mother’s Kiwi nationality.
Aussie loss was Kiwi gain with Kerby leading a young NZ squad to a 3:50 ride.
Still with UAE for 2018 Ganna opened his season strongly with second on GC in the Vuelta a San Juan stage race in Argentina.
He regained his world title and lead his Azzuri to a Worlds bronze and European gold in the team pursuit.
Meanwhile, against the watch, future team mate at Sky/Ineos, Gianni Moscon denied him the Italian TT title by a scant two seconds.
This season he was snapped up by the mighty Sky – soon to become Ineos – machine.
His time trial abilities have developed even further – aided no doubt by the British team’s meticulous attention to detail – with wins in his national TT championship, the prologue in La Provence and the TT in the Benelux Tour not to mention bronze in the Worlds at Harrogate and runner-up spot in the Chrono des Nations.
A top five in the Coppa Sabatini bodes well for future road performances, whilst on the track he’s been on fire.
Ganna retained his world title, lead Italy to silver in the European Team Pursuit Championships and delivered that stunning 4:02 ride in Minsk with the formerly unthinkable prospect of a sub-four minute individual pursuit now seemingly inevitable.
His third title puts him on a par with Pursuit Royalty: Guido Messina (Italy), Roger Riviere (France), Leandro Faggin (Italy) who was on the podium nine times over 11 years, Hans-Henrik Ørsted (Denmark) eight years straight on the podium, Robert Bartko (Germany) and Bradley Wiggins (Great Britain) who are all on three titles each.
Only the specialist’s specialist, Great Britain’s Hugh Porter has taken four titles – and was on the podium for seven consecutive years.
However the cycling landscape has changed; apart from the personal satisfaction of being the best in the world – and being allowed to wear the rainbow jersey in criterium and road events in the absence of the world road race champion – the rainbow bands meant strong contract fees for the big open air track meets and Six Day races of the time.
But with neither arena anywhere near as strong as they used to be the financial value of being world pursuit champion is debatable.
The value to the big pro teams too of the pursuit rainbow jersey is questionable – Patrick Lefevere allows Iljo Keisse to ride the Gent Six Day and Michael Mørkøv to ride in Copenhagen because he knows it means a lot to them.
But one of the reasons the Belgian Svengali has let Elia Viviani go – apart from not matching the monster cheque from Cofidis – is that the Italian star wants six weeks to prepare for his Olympic Omnium defence.
Lefevre is simply not interested.
However Team Ineos, knowing how keen UK viewers are on the Olympics – ‘the couple of weeks every four years when the British Public pretend they’re interested in bike racing’ – and having deeper pockets than Lefevere may be more amenable to Ganna preparing for Tokyo.
But before that, the Italian can join ‘King Hughie of Wolverhampton’ if he takes a fourth title in Berlin come late February.
It’s an interesting prospect.
But the bottom line is ‘sorry Filippo’, I take it back, you’re one terrific pursuit rider, sir!