Bernal shows his first signs of weakness
As racing returned after the final rest day of the Giro d’Italia 2021, Egan Bernal looked to be a king in waiting.
The Colombian star has dominated throughout the race so far, winning two stages and continually gaining time to build his advantage to almost 2-30 with just five stages remaining.
His Ineos Grenadiers team continued to control the pace and onto the foot of the savage final climb to Sega di Ala, and it looked like we might see Bernal put in a characteristic attack in the last few kilometres to extend further, but that’s not how it played out.
Around 3km from the summit Simon Yates (Team BikeExchange) finally put in the attack we had been expecting all day, forcing Bernal to try to follow the British Grand Tour winner.
After initially matching Yates, Bernal suddenly hit the wall on the double digit gradients and the clock began to tick.
Bernal looked to have almost come to a complete halt at points, with his team-mate Dani Martinez dropping back to assist his team leader.
After rallying in the final few kilometres, Bernal was able to stick with his nearest rival Damiano Caruso to minimise any losses, while Yates closed gain a chunk of time.
While it may seem like a disaster to crack in dramatic fashion so close to Milan, the blow is not as bad as it initially seems.
Bernal lost just three seconds to Caruso, and just 53 to Yates, which means he still leads the 2-21 to his nearest rival, whilst further distancing others like Hugh Carthy and Aleksandr Vlasov.
The real question is not the time lost on stage 17, but instead what caused Bernal’s slip.
Was it the back problems that have hindered him since last season? Has he overexerted himself in the first two weeks of racing? Or was this just a momentary blip that won’t extend beyond the finish? The remaining four stages will tell.
Simon Yates flies to the summit to take back podium
Britain’s Simon Yates has cast an almost mysterious figure in this year’s Giro.
After a very quiet first week, which many put down to conservative tactics for a final week push, Yates then revealed he’d been suffering from a problem that hindered his performance early in the race.
In the second week he began to climb the leaderboard and jumped into second place after stage 14, only to lose all of his gains on the tough stage 16 to Cortina d’Ampezzo, slipping back to fifth.
Then on stage 17 Yates came back once again, enjoying the better weather to attack Bernal and power clear.
After the stage, Yates revealed the GC had not been on his mind when he attacked 3km from the finish, saying he was in pursuit of a stage win after his team missed the day’s breakaway, not realising Bernal had been dropped until some time after his move.
Yates was able to jump back onto the podium as he gained around 50 seconds on Bernal and Caruso, but he may lose sleep over the time he lost on stage 16.
If Yates had not lost 2-37 to Bernal on Monday, he would now be just 40 seconds behind Bernal, rather than the 3-23 deficit he currently faces.
But with plenty more climbing to come, Yates may be able to take advantage of the cracks Bernal showed on stage 17.
Dan Martin completes the set
The 2021 Giro has been a bittersweet race for Israel Start-Up Nation, with alternating successes and disappointments for the team throughout the race.
After losing Krists Neilands to a crash after the finish of the first stage, the team then took the maglia rosa with Alessandro De Marchi in the first week, before the Italian suffered serious injuries in a crash and was forced to abandon.
Alex Dowsett, the winner of ISN’s first ever Grand Tour stage in the Giro last year, was then forced to pull out due to illness, while their GC leader Dan Martin had steadily lost time over the course of the race.
But an ever-determined Martin made persistent efforts to make it into the breakaway in pursuit of stage victory, and on stage 17 the winds turned in his favour.
After struggling to make it into the day’s break, Martin emerged as the strongest rider on the final climb, dangling out front with just 90 seconds over the rapid group of GC favourites.
But knowing the climb, Martin dug in until the final 2km where he finally decided to empty the tank to break the hearts of any stage hopefuls behind (including Simon Yates).
Ciccone’s admirable pursuit ends in disappointment
There was plenty of disappointment to be shared around after stage 17, but potentially none so justified as Giulio Ciccone (Trek-Segafredo).
Ciccone started the day in sixth place, having been a consistent performer, but day 17 proved to be testing in more ways than one.
After suffering a mechanical mid-way through the stage, Ciccone was caught up in a crash on a descent in the final 30km of the stage - an inopportune moment as the peloton powered towards the final climb of the day.
Despite being able to hop back on his bike, Ciccone still found himself 30 seconds behind the bunch, with the pace high in anticipation of Sega di Ala.
Finally Ciccone was able to re-join the bunch, after another bike change at the tail end of the team car convoy, but the effort had taken its toll.
He was then dropped early on the climb and looked to be in no shape to keep up with the GC favourites.
By the finish, Ciccone had lost around seven minutes to the top favourites, as he now sits in 10th place overall, 11 minutes off the race lead
But he wasn’t the only loser on another brutal day of climbing in Italy.
Hugh Carthy (EF Education-Nippo) struggled in the heat and lost contact with the Bernal and Yates group in the final few kilometres, battling to finish three minutes down on his rivals, slipping back to fifth place overall, 6-09 away from the maglia rosa.
Swap in fortunes for Deceuninck - Quick-Step
Belgian squad Deceuninck - Quick-Step have had a rollercoaster Giro so far, as they have fully turned their focus to general classification hopes.
Remco Evenepoel entered their race as one of the clear favourites, despite his nine-month absence from racing due to injury, while Joao Almeida returned having led the race for two weeks last year.
While Evenepoel glowed in the first week of the race, he suddenly began to lose huge chunks of time in the second week and eventually fell out of the GC race completely on stage 16 on Monday.
Meanwhile Almeida, who lost time in the opening stages, has been resurgent in the final week of the Giro after he pulled himself back into the top-10 from the breakaway in Cortina d’Ampezzo.
The riders’ fortunes have fully reversed now with four days left, as Evenepoel was caught in the same crash as Ciccone in the final 30km, being sent over the roadside barrier. After he was attended by medical staff, Evenepoel got back on the bike and rode in to the finish with the grupetto, as he now sits an hour down on GC.
Almeida however was one of the three strongest riders in the top-10 on stage 17, launching his own successful attack and sticking with Yates and Bernal in the final few kilometres.
The Portuguese rider then left Yates behind to gain further time, finishing second on the stage just 13 seconds behind the winner Martin.
Almeida now sits eighth overall, 8-45 off the race lead, but is within two minutes of Aleksandr Vlasov (Astana-Premier Tech) in fourth, which means matching his fourth-place finish from last season is still a realistic dream.
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