In June this year, American Ashton Lambie lowered his own 4km track world record from 4:07.25 to 4:05.42 in the rarefied air of Bolivia. Fast forward to 3rd November and the individual pursuit heats at the UCI Track Cycling World Cup in Minsk, Belarus. Italian sensation Filippo Ganna lines up looking to qualify for the final later that day…
Memories from Minsk
The 23-year-old had had a strong season that included recording the world’s best 4km time at sea level in Pruszkow (4:07.45). But even Ganna couldn’t have dreamt what would happen next: with an average speed of 58.956km/hr, he bettered Lambie’s mark to 4:04.25. Incredibly, as highlighted by multi-Paralympic gold medallist Jody Cundy on Twitter, Ganna rode quicker and quicker, and all this without the benefits of racing at altitude.
Even more incredibly, this served as a competitive warm-up. That evening, Ganna clocked 4:02.647 in the final at a blistering average of 59.345km/hr. The Italian caught his opponent, John Archibald of Great Britain, after a little over 3km… and kept powering on. Two world records and a gold medal. A good day’s work.
The medals kept coming
It topped a successful November weekend for Ganna, who had helped Italy to team pursuit bronze on the Saturday; in fact, it topped a successful 2019 track year for Ganna that also saw him win world individual pursuit gold in Poland, beating Domenic Weinstein to gold – a repeat of 2016 when Ganna held off the German by just 0.079secs. Ganna also won world individual pursuit gold in 2018.
His third title put him on a par with pursuit legends Guido Messina and Leandro Faggin (ITA), Roger Rivière (FRA), Hans Henrik Ørsted (DEN), Robert Bartko (GER) and Sir Bradley Wiggins (GBR). Only Great Britain’s Hugh Porter has more titles, at four.
Ganna’s track palmares also includes European, Under-23 and national individual honours, plus team pursuit silver at October’s European Track Championships in Apeldoorn, the Netherlands, and world bronze in both 2017 and 2018. And arguably it’s the team element that’s more important to Ganna in 2020 as the individual pursuit is no longer part of the Olympic programme – the team pursuit is.
“In the team pursuit, there are two teams in front of us: Denmark and Australia,” Ganna told La Gazzetta dello Sport recently. “Maybe three with Great Britain, but that’s not a given. I’m ambitious.”
Time trial in Tokyo
Those ambitions have seen Ganna make a mark on tarmac as well as the boards. He now races for Team Ineos after moving last winter from UAE Abu Dhabi. He’s made quite a mark including second at the Chrono des Nations (FRA) and fifth at Coppa Sabatini (ITA).
The results bode well for future road success and a stab at a Grand Tour, with Ganna keen to race the 2020 Giro d’Italia. There may be partisan reasons for racing, but there are also competitive reasons with next year’s Italian tour featuring three time-trials including a short opener in Budapest.
Ganna has seamlessly transferred pursuit glory to time trial, the peak so far being bronze at this year’s UCI Road World Championships in Harrogate, Yorkshire (Great Britain) behind winner Rohan Dennis (AUS) and Belgium’s Remco Evenepoel. He’d shown a glimpse of his form by winning time trial stages at both the Tour de la Provence and Binck Bank Tour earlier in the season.
Ganna benefits from great genes. His father, Marco, rowed for Italy, offering an insight into Ganna’s natural power. But young Filippo preferred pedals to oars and, while riding for Italian amateur team Pedale Ossolano in 2012, won the Italian Novices TT Championships. A year later he won bronze at the Italian Junior Championships, and by 2014 he’d swapped third for first.
It led to a stagiaire opportunity with Lampre-Merida in 2015, where Ganna won the Paris-Roubaix Under-23 title in 2016, as well as the Italian Under-23 National Road Championships. Lampre-Merida morphed into UAE Abu Dhabi in 2017 (subsequently UAE Team Emirates) but it was in early 2018 that he caught the attention of then Team Sky with second overall at the Vuelta a San Juan in Argentina. It prompted a move to the British team on a two-year contract.
What of the future? If Ganna continues his current trajectory, surely an extended contract with Team Ineos awaits. At 80kg and 1.93m tall, it’s hard to see a Grand Tour contender, but further success on both the track and in the time trial must be on the cards. And he has shown that he could challenge at the Tokyo Olympics time trial. Ganna has also mentioned he’d seek an attempt at breaking Victor Campenaerts’ UCI Hour Record timed by Tissot, which stands at 55.089km.
Whichever of these come to fruition, Filippo Ganna is a rising star of world cycling.