Ineos Grenadiers leader flew under the radar in the lead up to the Italian Grand Tour, having struggled with back problems over the last two seasons.
Bernal, winner of the 2019 Tour de France, still entered the 2021 race as favourite, despite not having won a race since La Route d’Occitanie last August.
But the Colombian star surged into the race lead on Sunday (May 16), powering clear of his rivals on the gravel finish at Campo Felice and winning his first ever Grand Tour stage.
Speaking during a Zoom press conference on the first rest day of the Giro on Tuesday (May 18), Bernal said: “My preparation hasn’t been ideal, so I was aiming for the second and third week. Fighting for stages and time bonuses was not in the plan. But the emotion and adrenalin have helped. I’ve seen some opportunities, and I’ve taken them."
But despite Bernal’s dominance performance over the weekend, the fight for the maglia rosa is still a matter of seconds, as the 24-year-old leads by 14 seconds over Remco Evenepoel (Deceuninck - Quick-Step) with 11 stages remaining.
The race is still close enough for Evenepoel and Bernal to be fighting over time bonuses, as the pair both sprinted full gas for an intermediate checkpoint on stage 10, with Evenepoel gaining two seconds to Bernal’s one.
Bernal said: “Up to now we’ve been fighting for seconds, but from now on the differences are going to be much bigger.”
He is also aware of the danger posed by the final time trial in Milan on stage 21, where Evenepoel has the advantage over a climber like Bernal: “A lot depends on which riders are up there too on GC.
"If it’s a time trialling specialist like Remco, having him at less than a minute would be risky - 90 seconds on a time triallist would be good.”
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