Who can stop Bernal?
After the test of Monte Zoncolan, no-one appears capable of snatching Egan Bernal’s pink jersey.
The Colombian increased his overall lead from 45 seconds to 1-33 with seven stages to go, courtesy of his own imperious performance and the faltering of his rivals behind.
All those concerns about his back are now extinguished. The struggles he endured with fame and pressure after winning the Tour de France are now managed. A week remains in the Giro d’Italia, but it’s safe to say Bernal has never looked stronger.
Aided by his excellent Ineos Grenadiers team-mates who set a searing pace up the mountain, Bernal is reading the stages well, timing his attacks correctly, and measuring his efforts. He’s performing like the serial Grand Tour winner we all thought he would become two summers ago.
He didn’t win atop Zoncolan, but rarely have we seen him in better shape than on the hellishly-tough gradients. It’s his maglia rosa to surrender.
But Yates bites back
Bernal moved away from his general classification rivals when he followed the attack of Simon Yates inside the final 1,500m.
While Bernal grinned and gurned behind the BikeExchange rider, Yates had a poker face that didn’t etch pain and anguish.
Although he was eventually overtaken by Bernal and finished 11 seconds behind his Colombian rival, crucially for the Briton he gained a good chunk of time on another of fellow GC men to jump from fifth to second in the overall standings.
There had been talk and mutterings in the past fortnight if Yates was biding his time before attacking in the Giro, perhaps scarred by the 2018 edition of this very Grand Tour when his lightening start eventually gave way to a depleted body in the final throes of the race.
The answer from Zoncolan is that, yes, Yates does appear to be peaking towards the end of the race this time around, an exciting prospect as we head into the final weeks and more beasts in the Dolomites.
The unknown riding himself into folklore
Be honest, did you know who Lorenzo Fortunato was when you had your lunch on Saturday afternoon?
A 25-year-old ProTeam rider with no professional victories to his name and riding his maiden Grand Tour, you weren’t supposed to know him.
The Italian, however, will see his face plastered across national newspapers in his home country and spoken about around the world following his spectacular victory from the breakaway.
Fortunato was part of the day’s break that featured some of the best climbers on WorldTour teams including Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo) and George Bennett (Jumbo-Visma).
But none were a match for Fortunato, who honoured his terrific name by crossing the line some 26 seconds ahead of Jan Tratnik of Bahrain Victorious.
The ride was a painful joy as he swung his bike, screamed for energy, was literally pushed by fans, and not only rode himself into cycling folklore, but scored EOLO-Kometa’s first win of the season.
Team owner Alberto Contador had promised he would ride from Madrid to Milan if the team took a stage victory; the two-time Giro winner better get pedalling now, then.
Not so much fun for Vlasov
Fortunato can celebrate his astounding achievement tonight, but Astana-Premier Tech’s Aleksandr Vlasov will not be soaking up any plaudits.
The 25-year-old was second on GC this morning but finished 72 seconds adrift of Bernal to fall to fourth in the standings.
It’s not a nightmare, it’s not the end of the Russian’s aspirations for the win or even a podium that he is only seven seconds shy of, but it was an indication of his limits.
Such an exciting talent, there has still been somewhat of a mystery around his capabilities, and Zoncolan showed that when the road turns skywards and his rivals march on, while he doesn’t collapse, he isn’t quite able to keep pace with the efforts of Bernal.
Vlasov won’t be too disheartened and will back himself to take back time in the forthcoming stages, but his result will sting given the work his teammates did during the day at controlling the breakaway.
Small gaps in the race for best of the rest
Consolidating his status as the surprise package is Damiano Caruso who may have shipped 39 seconds to Egan Bernal but remained in third place.
The Bahrain-Victorious man is riding the race of his career and elevating himself into the position as the contender for Best of the Rest, the only GC rider other than Bernal and Yates in the stage’s top-10
He finished seven seconds ahead of Mr Steady Emanuel Buchmann (Bora-hansgrohe) and 15 seconds ahead of Hugh Carthy (EF Education-Nippo). The pair didn’t cede an insurmountable time to the maglia rosa, but will need to attack and probably more than once if they are secure a spot on the podium in Milan.
Elsewhere, Remco Evenepoel managed to limit his losses after being dropped in the final few kilometres to now sit 3.52 back from Bernal in eighth, while there was a new entrant into the GC top-10 in the shape of Romain Bardet (Team DSM).
We’re set for a thrilling final seven stages, with Bernal aiming to hold on, and just 63 seconds separating Yates in second from Buchmann in sixth.
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