I don’t think anyone was surprised at the outcome of Stage 1, an individual time trial dominated by Filippo Ganna of Team Ineos Grenadiers. Fans will remember his valiant effort in Stage 5 of last year’s race, where he fought mano a mano with veteran Vincenzo Nibali, in dark and foggy conditions. On the descent Ganna, in his dark blue kit, vanished for seconds at a time, blending into the shadows. As he crossed the line ahead of Nibali, Ganna secured not just the stage win but the maglia azzurra, the blue jersey awarded to the best climber.
A year later he still owns the time trial discipline. He also donned the maglia rosa (worn by the overall race leader) for Stage 2, adding pink accessories to complete the look. Ganna rode well, keeping the pink jersey for another day.
But the man of the match, so to speak, was Tim Merlier of the Alpecin-Fenix squad. After a long, flat stage that meandered along the banks of the River Po then ambled through the hills of Asti, the speedsters of the peloton steeled themselves for a massive bunch sprint. Lots of drama surrounded the finish: Dylan Groenewegen of Team Jumbo Visma made his first appearance after a nine-month suspension for his role in a devastating crash in last year’s Tour of Poland:
Press reports full of commentary from other sprinters and their teams flooded the news cycle, adding intrigue and anxiety to one of the biggest races of the season. Long story short, Tim Merlier outpedaled everyone, including Elia Viviani, Fernando Gaviria, and Caleb Ewan. Groenewegen finished fourth.
When in Asti . . .
Choosing a sip-along suggestion was easy for this stage: Barbera d’Asti, of course!
Barbera is a late-ripening grape with low-to-medium tannins and high acidity, with aromas of red cherry and plum. It’s what many of the winegrowers drink while waiting for their Nebbiolo-based wines to age. And it’s just plain delicious.
Barbera d’Asti DOCG wines are high-quality yet affordable, and are fantastic with a range of foods. This bottle from La Spinetta was a no-brainer to celebrate Stage 2, making a great companion for a rosemary roast pork loin.
Maceration and fermentation were conducted in temperature-controlled vats over the course of two weeks. After racking into second- and third-use French oak barrels, the wine underwent malolactic conversion and aged for 12 months. After bottling the wine aged another three months before release.
I paired it with an Italian-style pork roast flavored with rosemary and garlic, and topped with thin slices of pancetta. The fruity, high-acid Barbera was a lovely match, even with the roasted asparagus I served alongside.
What to Expect in Stage 3
Given the first chance to flex their climbing muscles, the overall contenders and top scalatori (climbers) will shake up the standings. Ganna will probably lose the maglia rosa, returning to his role as domestique (support rider) for Egan Bernal, the leader of Team Ineos Grenadiers. We’ll get a glimpse of each team’s tactics and overall strategy – critical to success in a three-week race.
I’ll be watching every second, embracing how alive this race feels after a year without fans. Every pink balloon along the roadside will make me smile, as will the antics of the overenthusiastic fans. And I’ll be cheering the peloton along, whoever is in the lead.