Bernal is back to his best
Has Egan Bernal at last put his back problems behind him?
He got through an intense day of undulating climbs with fresh enough legs to launch an explosive attack on the spectacular unpaved gravel roads at the top of the day’s final climb, and win what was, somewhat surprisingly, his first ever Grand Tour stage.
This was the best we’ve seen from Bernal since he won the yellow jersey almost two years ago. He was a class above the other GC contenders, and would likely have gained more time had the gravel section been longer.
The signs are therefore very encouraging for the Colombian, but the real test of his back will come later in the race, where all the climbing in the final week will severely test the resilience of his back. He’s in pink for now though, and in this form, and with such a strong Ineos Grenadiers team to support him, it will be difficult for anyone to prise it off him.
Ciccone is a legitimate GC contender
Giulio Ciccone (Trek-Segafredo) was the only rider able to follow Bernal’s attack on the climb, and ultimately finished as best-of-the-rest in second-place at seven seconds, reiterating the notion that he is indeed a legitimate GC contender.
The Italian certainly didn’t start the Giro d'Italia racing like one, making several speculative attacks early in the week in his customary style. Having never before finished in the top fifteen of a Grand Tour, he was approaching the race as a chancer looking for stage wins, with apparently no interest in conserving energy for a GC challenge.
But after performing surprisingly well on the earlier uphill finishes, Ciccone must now be rethinking his tactics to instead focus on the GC, and he passed the sternest test with flying colours, to move up from seventh to fourth overall.
As an Italian, he’ll be coming under increasing pressure from the tifosi to perform. With his teammate and the nation’s former great hope Vincenzo Nibali losing more time today, to slide to over two minutes down on GC, he is the standout contender from the home nation to compete for victory (Damiano Caruso and Davide Formolo are the only other Italians in the top ten, at 45 seconds and 1-01 respectively).
That’s a big ask for someone with so little Grand Tour pedigree, but if Ciccone continues riding like he has done so far, overall victory might just be a possibility.
Simon Yates continues to ride passively but steadily
We’re used to watching Simon Yates put in swashbuckling attacks on short, steep climbs like the stage nine finish, but once again he rode defensively, not putting his nose to the wind at the front, but also ensuring he isn’t dropped.
These rides are in stark contrast to how he approached the 2018 Giro d’Italia, where he won three stages and wore the pink jersey for most of the race, but given the way he ran out of gas in the final week of that race, maybe that’s a good thing for his overall chances.
The big question is whether Yates is playing a clever game of preserving energy and holding back by choice, or if he wants to follow the attacks from Bernal but is unable to?
He lost another twelve seconds to Bernal today, plus bonus seconds, meaning he now lies 55 seconds down on GC in ninth — hardly ideal, but hardly fatal either.
For now he remains well in contention for overall victory, but we won’t have a clear idea of where his form is until the really big mountains later in the race.
The GC remains wide open
As dominant as Bernal was, there are still plenty of overall contenders very close to his time on GC, meaning the race for pink remains wide open.
Most notably Remco Evenepoel (Deceuninck - Quick-Step) is still going very well in his debut Grand Tour, recovering from a poor position on the final climb to finish fourth, and remain second overall.
Alexander Vlasov (Astana-Premier Tech) also again looked very strong today, finishing third behind Bernal and Ciccone to climb to third on GC. Like Evenepoel, he’s also unproven as a Grand Tour contender, so we don’t really know what to expect of him in the next two weeks, but watching it unfold will be very exciting.
And we shouldn’t yet discount the chances of Hugh Carthy (EF Education-Nippo), Dan Martin (Israel Start-Up Nation) or even the resurgent Romain Bardet (DSM). All three again limited their losses today, and all three have in the past gone very well during the final week of Grand Tours.
Bahrain Victorious again thwarted by crash but keep GC hopes alive
Bahrain-Victorious have responded admirably to Mikel Landa’s abandonment on stage five. The very next day following the abrupt end of Landa’s GC hopes — which had been their sole goal before the race — they bounced back with a stage win from Gino Mäder, immediately salvaging a race that had just 24 hours earlier appeared in tatters.
Not content with just that stage win, they also still harbour hopes in the overall classification, with Damiano Caruso ending stage nine still well up there on GC.
On stage nine, they went about improving Caruso’s position, and did so with boldly attacking tactics, with the Italian attacking near the start of the stage along with teammates Mäder and Matej Mohorič.
It was a thrilling move, and threatened to spark the GC race into life far earlier than expected. But then disaster struck, and Mohorič hit the deck hard on his head, abandoning the race with fears of concussion. Without his skills on the descent, the attack lost momentum, and Caruso was neutralised and brought back by the peloton.
Nevertheless, Caruso still managed to perform very well on the finishing climb, finishing sixth and losing just 12 seconds to Bernal, keeping him in the mix at 7th overall on GC. With him still in contention, Bahrain-Victorious’ GC hopes aren’t over yet, and we wait with bated breath to see what they’ll try next.
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