Bernal rediscovers his form and is on the brink of glory
It seems talk of Egan Bernal’s demise at this Giro d'Italia was greatly exaggerated. Just three days ago he looked like a man running out of gas, when he was dropped on Sega di Ala. With four stages still to ride after that, featuring some of the toughest climbs of the whole race, it seemed even the large buffer of several minutes over his GC rivals might not be enough for him to secure overall victory after all.
That day turned out to be just a blip, however, and the Colombian was again back to his best on stage 20, riding just as well as he did to take the jersey plus two stage wins during the first and second week. Although Caruso won the stage after smartly getting himself a head-start by attacking earlier in the stage, it was Bernal who was the quickest rider up the final climb, reversing the trend that appeared to show he was on the decline and Yates on the ascendency.
The result means that Bernal still holds a lead of 1-59 over Caruso (and 3-23 over Yates) heading into tomorrow’s time trial finale, which will surely be enough to seal overall victory. Although Caruso is probably better against the clock, he will certainly not be expected to gain that much time.
We’ve seen stunning turnarounds in final time trials before, most recently, of course, at last year’s Tour de France. But Bernal’s advantage is twice that which Primož Roglič held over Tadej Pogačar, and this time trial is shorter, and features no climb like the Planche des Belles Filles which had such a big impact that day.
The only thing between Bernal and glory therefore would be some kind of crash or mechanical. It’ll be a nervous day, but the Colombian is on the brink of glory.
Bold Caruso is rewarded with stage win
Up until now, Damiano Caruso’s Giro had been characterised by his consistency. We’d never seen him attack, but neither had he ever had a bad day, and while the likes of Simon Yates, Romain Bardet (DSM), Alexander Vlasov (Astana-Premier Tech) and even Emmanuel Buchmann (Bora-Hansgrohe) had all sporadically looked stronger, it was he rather than anyone else who remained closest to Egan Bernal on GC.
This conservative approach meant few were talking about him attacking on day 20 and going for overall victory, so it was a pleasant surprise to see him attack so early on, on the descent of San Bernardino, some 55km from the finish.
The Italian might have ended up in that breakaway group by accident, finding himself there as a result of following team-mate Pello Bilbao’s fast pace on the descent in pursuit of a trio of DSM riders who had gone clear. But rather than sit up and wait for the peloton, Bilbao was put to work at the front of the group, as they aimed to press on and put Bernal under pressure — and maybe even take the pink jersey from him.
Overturning such a large deficit to Bernal was always going to be a big ask, and indeed Caruso was ultimately only able to gain thirty seconds back. But the 33-year-old was nevertheless richly rewarded for his boldness, as he capitalised on his head-start on the final climb to gain what was a first ever WorldTour victory, as well as all but seal a second-place finish on GC.
No attack from Simon Yates
This stage was billed as a battle between a resurgent Simon Yates versus a faltering Egan Bernal, and so we were all eagerly anticipating an attack from the Brit. With 2-49 to make up on Bernal, he could not afford to wait until the final climb to attack if he had eyes on winning the pink jersey.
But ultimately, neither he or his BikeExchange team managed to implement any kind of plan to take the pink jersey.
Even at the very start of the stage, there was no attempt from the team to get domestiques into the day’s break, a ploy that would have indicated Yates was planning an attack on one of the early climbs and would need them up ahead to help him later in the stage.
The team did move to the front of the peloton on the first climb, but failed to set a ferocious pace. It wasn’t until DSM took over on the second half of the climb and on the following descent that the racing really kicked off, and here BikeExchange were caught napping as Caruso and Bahrain Victorious shot off out the front on the descent.
By the approach to the second climb of the day, it appeared as though they’d virtually given up hope of winning pink, when they chose to ride with Ineos Grenadiers to help chase Caruso, rather than risk the Italian gaining more time and leave it to Ineos Grenadiers to do all the work and potentially use up all of their men
Given how strong Bernal was on the final climb, and the fact Yates lost 27 seconds to him after being dropped, there probably wasn’t much Yates could have done to stop him. But for the sake of exciting racing, it would have been great to see him try something like Caruso’s ploy today, and shown more willingness to risk his podium place for a shot at overall victory.
Ineos Grenadiers and Martínez with another masterclass
Although you could say Caruso’s early attack put Ineos Grenadiers on the back foot for most of the day, it certainly didn’t feel like that. The team appeared calm and in control all day, retaining plenty of domestiques in the peloton to make sure there was never a risk of Bernal being isolated.
Perhaps there was a moment on the second climb, when they were down to just Jonathan Catroviejo and Daniel Martínez and the gap was growing towards a minute, when things were a little precarious. But the invaluable Spaniard managed to stay intact over the top of the climb and do more crucial pace-setting on the approach to the final climb to keep Caruso in check.
Once again Dani Martínez was MVP, producing his best ride of the race so far — and perhaps the best of his whole career — on the final climb, which he led almost from start to finish.
The ride was reminiscent of past great domestique performances from the team’s past like Richie Porte and Wout Poels, and demonstrates why Ineos Grenadiers were so eager to sign the young Colombian.
As well as playing such a crucial role in putting Bernal on the brink of victory, he’s also set to finish off a career-high Grand Tour GC finish for himself. He leapfrogs Hugh Carthy (EF Education-Nippo) to rise to sixth overall, and will be confident of taking the eighth seconds he needs in tomorrow’s time trial to move ahead of Romain Bardet (DSM) in fifth — and might even close the 49 seconds he needs to close down Alexander Vlasov (Astana-Premier Tech) in fourth.
Teams set to leave the Giro empty handed
As the last road stage of the Giro, stage 20 was the last chance for many winless teams to take something from this Giro (at least, apart from those who think they’ve got any chance of beating Filippo Ganna in the time trial).
DSM in particular showed great intent, attacking with three of their riders in the hope of setting Romain Bardet up for a stage win. But the Frenchman was dropped by Caruso towards the top of the climb, and neither did he gain enough time to put him within a shot of the podium, meaning the team’s race ends in disappointment.
A podium finish also now looks impossible for Vlasov and Carthy. Carthy’s EF Education-Nippo team at least has Alberto Bettiol’s stage win to fall back on, but Astana-Premier Tech will be disappointed having put all their eggs into the basket of Vlasov’s GC bid.
And Deceuninck - Quick-Step and Trek-Segafredo will be ruing not winning the stage. Both teams did much of the early pace-setting to bring back the first break of the day, but neither of their riders were able to feature in the finale, with Quick-Step’s Almeida not as strong as on recent days, and Trek’s Nibali being dropped early. The former might yet have a reprieve if Rémi Cavagna or perhaps even Almeida himself have the legs to win tomorrow, but a race that showed so much promise early on for Trek-Segafredo with the revelatory form of Giulio Ciconne is now ending with a whimper.
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Stephen Puddicombe is a freelance journalist for Cycling Weekly, who regularly contributes to our World Tour racing coverage with race reports, news stories, interviews and features. Outside of cycling, he also enjoys writing about film and TV - but you won't find much of that content embedded into his CW articles.