Simon Yates showed he has the best climbing legs in the final week of the Giro d'Italia 2021, winning stage 19 with an attack on the day's summit finish. Yates gained almost half a minute on Egan Bernal, who keeps control of the pink jersey.
Yates (BikeExchange) was the second rider to attack after João Almeida (Deceuninck - Quick-Step), eventually going clear solo to take the stage win.
Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers) didn't follow any attacks and used his team-mates well before pushing on himself with Almeida, eventually losing touch with the Portuguese rider in the final few hundred metres of the climb.
It was a fast pace from the start of the stage, with Team BikeExchange and Deceuninck - Quick-Step drilling it to try and put Ineos Grenadiers under pressure. It was set up for both Yates and Almeida to attack and that's exactly what happened.
Bernal, despite losing ground on Yates, actually gained time (four seconds) on second overall, Damiano Caruso (Bahrain-Victorious) but has another big mountain stage to face on Saturday's stage 20 before the final time trial in Milan on Sunday.
How it happened
The 19th stage of the Giro d’Italia 2021 started in the town of Abbiategrasso before taking on the slightly altered 166km route to Alpe di Mera, with a tough summit finish at the end.
It was altered due to the Mottarone cable car crash. The race was due to climb up Mottarone itself but the race organisers thought it would not be appropriate to climb up there. Instead they took on a smaller climb of Gignese before tackling the Passo della Colma and the Alpe di Mera.
A six-man break eventually got away after an attacking start, but never pulled out a decent gap with a peak of around five minutes. The riders involved included Nicola Venchiarutti (Androni), Mark Christian (Eolo-Kometa), Giovanni Aleotti (Bora-Hansgrohe), Larry Warbasse (Ag2r-Citroën), Quinten Hermans, and Andrea Pasqualon (both Intermarché).
The peloton was controlled by Team BikeExchange for most of the stage before Deceuninck - Quick-Step took over to really stretch things out on the descent of the first climb. This put seventh overall, Dani Martínez (Ineos Grenadiers) out of the back before being dragged back by Filippo Ganna and Salvatore Puccio.
On the second climb BikeExchange shared the pacing with Deceuninck but then Ganna returned to the front for Ineos, keeping Bernal well placed for the descent with 35km to go. This brought the gap to the break down to 1-05 over the top with Venchiarutti dropping back to the bunch before the summit.
Ineos wanted to keep an easy pace down the descent but Deceuninck and BikeExchange weren’t happy with that and came to the front to stretch it out yet again.
Christian went on the attack in the break at the start of the final climb as the rest of the break was dragged back by the Deceuninck led peloton. Only James Knox was left for Almeida though with 8km to go.
Knox's effort completely obliterated the peloton with Christian being caught. Almeida then attacked with 7km to go with Ineos Grenadiers left on the front of the peloton, allowing Almeida dangle out in front.
Simon Yates was the next to attack followed by George Bennett (Jumbo-Visma), Damiano Caruso (Bahrain Victorious), and Aleksandr Vlasov (Astana-Premier Tech). Ineos continued a steady pace for Bernal.
Almeida was caught by this attack very quickly. Bernal still had Castroviejo and Martínez with 6km to go but Yates and co continued to open the gap.
Yates then counterattacked the group out front. This left Almeida propped on the front of the other attackers trying to chase the British rider.
Bennett was caught by the peloton and was replaced by Hugh Carthy (EF-Nippo) who went on the attack. He quickly bridged to Almeida, Caruso and Vlasov but there was a further 20 seconds to Yates up the road with 4km to go.
Castroviejo made one big effort and pulled the Caruso group back with Martínez taking over. Vlasov then went on the move, while Yates out front had pulled out another 10 seconds with 3.5km to go. The Russian rider Vlasov was dragged back but Yates still looked solid.
Carthy was the next man to lose touch with the Bernal group that was made up of just five riders now. Martínez started to cut Yates’ lead though in the final 3km. Bernal took up the chase himself with 2.5km to go. Bernal then attacked Almeida, Caruso and Vlasov as he looked to chase Yates.
Almeida managed to cling on to Bernal but there were still 20 seconds to bridge up to the British rider Yates up front. Almeida had enough energy to come through and chase with Bernal in the final kilometre, but they were unable to stop Yates from holding on to the line to take the stage win.
Stage 20 is back to the high altitude and is now the queen's stage of the race with three category one climbs and two going above 2000 metres in altitude in the final half of the stage as well as a trip into Switzerland.
That is followed by the final stage individual time trial in Milan which will decide the outcome of the race.
Giro d'Italia 2021, stage 19: Abbiategrasso to Alpe di Mera (166km)
1. Simon Yates (GBr) Team BikeExchange, in 4-02-55
2. João Almeida (Por) Deceuninck - Quick-Step, at 11 seconds
3. Egan Bernal (Col) Ineos Grenadiers, at 28s
4. Damiano Caruso (Ita) Bahrain Victorious, at 32s
5. Aleksandr Vlasov (Rus) Astana-Premier Tech, at same time
6. Dan Martin (Irl) Israel Start-Up Nation, at 42
7. Dani Martínez (Col) Ineos Grenadiers, at 49s
8. Koen Bouwman (Ned) Team Jumbo-Visma, at 1-25
9. Tobias Foss (Nor) Team Jumbo-Visma
10. Romain Bardet (Fra) Team DSM, all at same time
General classification after stage 19
1. Egan Bernal (Col) Ineos Grenadiers, in 81-13-37
2. Damiano Caruso (Ita) Bahrain Victorious, at 2-29
3. Simon Yates (GBr) Team BikeExchange, at 2-49
4. Aleksandr Vlasov (Rus) Astana-Premier Tech, at 6-11
5. Hugh Carthy (GBr) EF Education-Nippo, at 7-10
6. Romain Bardet (Fra) Team DSM, at 7-32
7. Dani Martínez (Col) Ineos Grenadiers, at 7-42
8. João Almeida (Por) Deceuninck - Quick-Step, at 8-26
9. Tobias Foss (Nor) Team Jumbo-Visma, at 10-19
10. Dan Martin (Irl) Israel Start-Up Nation, at 13-55
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