Giro’21 BREAKDOWN: Bernal Bounces Up the Zoncolan!
Has Egan Bernal won the 2021 Giro?
Race Breakdown: As we enter the final decisive week of the 2021 Giro d’Italia, Spencer Martin breaks down the action so far and looks ahead to what we can expect from the stars. This year’s Giro is far from over and there is bound to be more surprises and upsets.
It’s not over yet
Fortunato – The youth showing the way
The past weekend at the Giro d’Italia saw more underdog winners from small teams, with Lorenzo Fortunato of EOLO-Kometa winning atop the absurdly steep Monte Zoncolan on stage 14 and Victor Campenaerts winning out of the breakaway on stage 15.
Campenaerts – At last a Grand Tour stage win
Back in the fight for the general classification, things were both anticlimactic and consequential. Egan Bernal extended his lead despite laying low until the final three kilometers of stage 14 when he responded to a serious Simon Yates attack. While he briefly looked under pressure, Bernal once again left no doubt when he counter-attacked viciously and dropped Yates inside the final kilometer. Yates would lose 11-seconds to Bernal by the end of the stage but would put enough time into the rest of the contenders to jump into second place overall. However, the takeaway of the weekend has to be the sight of Bernal flying past survivors of the early breakaway in the final hundred meters of the incredibly steep, foggy, snow-covered summit finish. The sight was awe-inspiring for viewers but likely highly demoralizing for competitors with four of the remaining six stages throwing difficult mountain tests at the GC contenders.
Stage 14 GC Gaps:
New GC Contender Standings:
Egan Bernal +0
Simon Yates +1’33
Damiano Caruso +1’51
Aleksandr Vlasov +1’57
Hugh Carthy +2’11
Giulio Ciccone +3’03
Remco Evenepoel +3’52.
Remco Evenepoel lost time, but he’s still there
- An interesting note after Saturday is that despite the talk of time gaps on the mountain stage being massive relative to non-mountain stages, every road GC stage (4, 6, 9, 11, 14) has produced similar time gaps despite some featuring relatively ‘easy’ climbs.
- Saturday’s stage was slightly anti-climactic due to any attacking from the GC contenders until the final few kilometers, but don’t let this fool you. This was a brutal effort for these riders and these are some of the biggest GC gaps we’ve seen so far. To put into perspective, Bernal’s lead to Yates is now larger than the difference between 1st and 2nd in the past five Final GC standings.
- Additionally, the Zoncolan tends to portend riders’ fitness for the third week. Cracks we saw today in the form of riders like Carthy, Vlasov, and Evenepoel could be blown open in the final week, and Yates, who looked fantastic, could be setting up for a great third week.
- Smaller, lower-budgeted teams winning stages has been a theme at this year’s Giro, and this is a byproduct of the lack of motivation in the teams of the GC riders to grab the stage win bonus seconds.
- My quick count has 10 of the 15 stages being won by riders getting their first career grand tour victories. This is unprecedented and speaks to the youth movement and the power of the breakaway at this year’s race.
- For example, team BikeExchange pulled back almost every breakaway during the 2018 Giro so Simon Yates could sprint for the stage bonus seconds, only for the team and Yates to fall apart in the brutal third week. Teams like Ineos and BikeExchange likely just don’t think the effort to pull these breaks back is worth the energy for the potential time bonuses.
- Jumbo-Visma has also used this tactic in recent grand tours since Primoz Roglic is capable of winning almost every stage and grabbing the bonus seconds. With Jumbo not sending a serious GC team to this Giro and the Giro’s current GC contenders lacking the ability to win most sprints, there is no team with any real motivation to pull back the breakaways.
- Also, Sagan and Bora have no real motivation to set a hard pace since all they have to do to take the Ciclamino to Milano is simply sit back and make sure the breakaways soak up the intermediate bonus sprints.
Peter Sagan will make sure the keeps the Maglia Ciclamino to Milan
- In the GC battle, Bernal is the huge winner. And considering the weekend’s gaps were all created in the final 3km on one stage, these are big losses for everyone but Simon Yates. And for the first time in this race, he is the ‘leader in the clubhouse’ with a gap big enough to hold off any challengers in the final TT.
- Yates, despite being dropped by Bernal quite dramatically, is the other winner of the day. He now looks like the best of the rest, and if he can stay in a close second, he puts himself in a position to capitalize if Bernal has any third-week issues.
- For a brief moment, I thought Yates would ride away from Bernal and lay the groundwork for a comeback on the Zoncolan in exactly the same fashion Froome did after riding away from him on these same steep slopes back in 2018. But, any idea that Bernal was struggling was put to rest with that attack in the final 400 meters.
- Damiano Caruso mitigates any big losses, holds his third place, and is still flying completely under the radar.
Damiano Caruso – Flying completely under the radar
- The big losers from the weekend are Aleksandr Vlasov and his Astana team. They took a big run at Ineos and Bernal on stage 14 by taking control of the peloton early on the stage and even split it briefly on a mid-stage descent.
- However, they end up looking like fools since they rode themselves into the ground, isolated Vlasov on the Zoncolan, and lost ground on nearly every major GC contender.
- The other losers are Carthy and Evenepoel. They both lose time to Bernal and Yates when they need to be gaining it. Additionally, Evenepoel called for Joao Almeida to come back to help him on the final few kilometers on stage 14, but the young Portuguese could soon overtake him on the GC if his struggles continue.
- Making matters worse for all of these contenders is that Dani Martinez, who is still in the top ten despite being Bernal’s domestique, gained time on everyone but Bernal and Yates after setting pace for Bernal on the climb.
- Emanual Buchmann had a great day on Saturday. He limited his losses to Bernal and Yates on the Zoncolan and took time on Vlasov and Carthy. If he wouldn’t have lost 1’18 to Bernal in the cold and rainy first week, he would have been sitting comfortably in second place after Saturday. Unfortunately, he crashed and was forced to leave the race on Sunday.
Buchmann out – Vlasov down
- The reason for the lack of long-range attacks on Saturday’s stage 15 and the pedestrian pace in the GC group on Sunday’s stage 15 is the fear amongst the peloton of the 16th stage. It is labeled the ‘Queen Stage’ and takes the peloton right through the heart of the Dolomites and hits the (in)famous Passo Pordoi and Gau and totals a massive 212kms.
- The stage passes through one of the most beautiful regions of the world, but make no mistake, these are brutal, brutal climbs, with the length of passes seen in the French Alps but with the steepness of Spanish goat paths.
- Underling just how absurdly hard this stage is that it starts on an 11km-long, 7% climb, which could be a featured climb in another grand tour.
There are two ways this plays out:
- However, in reality, things rarely work out this neatly. The most likely scenario is a mix of these two options. Riders like Dan Martin or Joao Almeida, who are around 7-8 minutes back in the GC could try to get away with the breakaway on this first climb. While they are technically still threats, Ineos might not spend the energy to shut them down right away.
- Martin could have sat up and taken it easy on the Zoncolan to focus on dedicating himself to chasing stage wins in the third week, but instead, he spent the energy to hold his GC position. This tells me he hasn’t given up hope for an eventual podium placing, and to do that, he has to attack from a long way out tomorrow.
- If riders like Martin or Almeida do get up the road, things could get tricky really fast for Ineos. This is a brutal stage and they could really struggle to control it if a few semi-contenders get away and then attacks start coming from riders like Yates, Carthy, and Vlasov.
- Another important component to remember is that the cold and rain we’ve been seeing in the lowlands could easily turn to snow and sleet in the high mountains. If the weather behaves tomorrow as it has up to this point in the final week, we could see utter chaos on the high mountain passes.
- All eyes will be on Evenepoel in the next few mountain stages, he has never raced real mountain stages at this level, and with his form appearing to fade as the race progresses, I wouldn’t be shocked if his DQS team takes him out of the race before we reach Milan.
- Long story short, I’m not buying the ‘Ineos will let the break go and ride easy to the finish’ narrative and this should be a very exciting stage that carries us into an action-packed third week.
○ Ineos sits up and lets the stage hunters who are no threat on the GC to build up a massive time gap and battle it out amongst themselves for the stage win. We get some disappointing shadow-boxing in the GC group behind and Bernal is never seriously under pressure.
○ Simon Yates’ BikeExchange team rips it up this first climb to blow up the peloton and try to put Egan Bernal under pressure and isolate him from his Ineos team, who has spent a lot of energy in this race already.
Six stages to go…
# Spencer Martin is the author of the cycling-analysis newsletter Beyond the Peloton that breaks down the nuances of each race and answers big picture questions surrounding team and rider performance. Sign up now to get full access to all the available content and race breakdowns. #