Giro’21 BREAKDOWN: Bernal Didn’t Falter In the Final Week!
The final Giro Breakdown
Race Breakdown: The final tough week of the 2021 Giro d’Italia could have brought pitfalls for Egan Bernal, but the Colombian showed maturity beyond his years. Having the strongest team in the race was obviously a big help, but Bernal still had turn the pedals. Spencer Martin gives us his final ‘Giro Breakdown’.
Tour and Giro wins for Egan Bernal – Vuelta next?
A very strong team effort from INEOS Grenadiers
Egan Bernal polished off his overall win at the 2021 Giro d’Italia with a solid time trial performance in Milan. He lost 30-seconds to Damiano Caruso on the day, but his generous time buffer meant he was never seriously under pressure and was even able to sit up and celebrate his win in front of the famous Duomo di Milano. Simon Yates suffered the worst performance on the day out of the GC contenders, but his time gap to 4th place was large enough that he was able to comfortably secure his third place overall.
The stage wrapped up the 2021 Giro d’Italia, which may have failed to deliver a truly epic fight for the overall general classification, but did deliver a stunning 13 stage wins from riders who had not previously won a grand tour stage, and Saturday’s mountain stage was truly thrilling after Caruso and his Bahrain teammates launched a mid-stage attack that appeared for a moment like it could truly challenge Bernal’s lead. While everyone was focused on the 21-year-old Remco Evenepoel for the first two weeks of the race, Bernal’s biggest challenge ended up coming from a 33-year-old journeyman with not a single WorldTour win on his Palmarès before his stage 20 victory. These unpredictable outcomes are exactly the reason why the Giro stands apart in an era of homogenized racing.
Egan Bernal +0
Damiano Caruso +1’29
Simon Yates + 4’15
Egan Bernal kept calm
Some Quick Takeaways:
- What stood out the most to me over the final week was the composure of Bernal. He appeared to be fading on stage 17, and he looked off at times on stage 19, but he looked completely in control on stages 20 & 21, despite losing time to Caruso on both days. And while he never really dazzled with raw power the way other modern riders like Primoz Roglic and Tadej Pogačar have, he impressed me with his ability to stay calm and simply sit in his teammates wheel no matter how dicey the situation got.
- The race for the win on stage 21 was more exciting than expected, but Filippo Ganna still came out on top. After the stage, he said he had bad legs, which makes sense considering all the work he did for Bernal in the final week. But even with an ‘off-day’ and an ill-timed puncture, he takes his fifth consecutive Giro TT victory. And remember, this is a rider who also won a climbing stage at the 2020 Giro d’Italia, which means Ineos could be sitting on one of cycling great future grand tour destroyers.
- Speaking of which, these average speeds are absolutely bananas. The leaders nearly covered 30kms in 30 minutes and Ganna averaged 54km/hr despite literally coming to a stop and being forced to start back up again, which means he was traveling over 60km/hr for most of the course. And even the non-TT-specific GC riders averaged over 50km/hr on the stage. If we flashback to the Armstrong era, even the fastest time trialist would be lucky to crash 50km/hr. I attribute this speed increase to smarter pacing tactics and an improvement in aero tech.
Ganna – First and last Giro stage winner
- Joao Almeida absolutely crushed the final few stages, especially the final time trial, and moved up to 6th overall. This is really impressive considering he was called back to stay with Remco multiple times in the first two weeks, and his minute and a half gap to Bernal shows that without his off-day on stage 4, he might have been able to stay close enough to win this race on the final day.
- Egan Bernal won the second grand tour of his career and shows us he is fully back after a disappointing 2020 season. We still don’t know if he can compete with the other GC wunderkind Tadej Pogačar, but any grand tour win is special, especially from riders without a knockdown time trial, so he should certainly savor this win, and we should be happy that a potential Pogačar challenger is back at his best.
- Bernal won the race, but another Colombian might have been even more impressive. Dani Martinez, despite working for Bernal the entire race, finished 5th overall and absolutely crushed the final TT. The 25-year-old got his best-ever GC finish and proved himself as a top-tier climber and time trialist. I cannot understand why EF let him out of his contract early at the end of 2020 since he is shaping up to be one of the strongest riders on the deepest team in the peloton.
- Having riders like Martinez as domestiques is part of why Ineos wins so many grand tours. Their extremely deep and strong teams are able to keep the pace so high, near terminal velocity, that nobody can attack on the climbs.
- Something interesting to watch in the future is how Ineos handles Martinez. He proved at this Giro that he is strong enough to lead a team on his own, and perhaps could be even stronger than Bernal in the future, especially with his strong TT ability.
- Damiano Caruso’s line-to-line performance from stage 1 to stage 21 was truly inspiring. The 33-year-old seamlessly slotted into Bahrain’s leadership role after his leader Mikel Landa crashed out on stage 5 and completely shocked everyone with both his consistency and his ability to win the race’s Queen stage on Saturday. And for those who think he merely fell into this 2nd overall, his average power on the 25-minute final climb on stage 20 was 410 watts, which is a world-class performance at the end of a grand tour mountain stage.
- What was most impressive was his willingness to put it all on the line on stage 20 to attempt to overturn Bernal’s lead and win the stage, especially if we consider that before the weekend, he had only won a single professional road race in his entire career.
- In addition, the Bahrain team, despite losing key riders like Mikel Landa and Matej Mohorič, executed a picture-perfect attack on the descent of the Passo San Bernardino on stage 20. This allowed Caruso, who couldn’t outclimb Martinez and Bernal, to use his superior technical skill to pull out a sizable advantage without having to expend more energy than the chasers.
- This attack put Ineos in a real bind, and the initial panic nearly saw them accidentally isolate Bernal for the final climb. This is what aggressive racing is all about. You use the nuances of the parcours to take time on a team/rider that is physically stronger in an unexpected place, then put them in a position to make a forced error.
- Tobias Foss got almost no attention during this race, but the 24-year-old Norwegian really impressed in his second career grand tour start. If he can continue his improvement in the mountains, he could emerge as a formidable force in TT-heavy grand tours down the line.
Daniel Martinez was very important to the Bernal win
Was too much expected of Hugh Carthy
Left Something to be Desired
- Hugh Carthy was facing high expectations after his 3rd place overall at the 2020 Vuelta but has suffered to capture that level so far in 2021 and never seemed to find his climbing legs at this Giro.
- Simon Yates gets the second grand tour podium of his career, but after coming into this race with flying form and failing to mount a serious challenge for the win, it is hard not to feel like the 28-year-old has already hit his peak.
- Deceuninck – Quick-Step really mismanaged this race. They somewhat strangely put everything behind Remco Evenepoel’s overall ambitions instead of spreading out their bets and as a result, come away with no stage wins and no podium finish.
- Making matters worse is that Almeida’s great final week shows that if they would have allowed him to race for himself, even after his disappointing stage 4, that he could have still finished on the podium, or maybe even won the overall. Remember, he was sent into a breakaway on stage 16, but he wasn’t so far down, he possibly could have limited his losses to Bernal, or perhaps even taken time, if he hadn’t been out front the entire stage.
Almeida – What could have been?
- Peter Sagan won the sprint classification and won a stage. While he has gotten grief for not fighting for more stage wins, he was basically here just to train for the Tour and Olympics after a bad case of COVID set him back earlier this year. The sprint jersey and stage win are a great result for him and prove he is on track to fight for Green at this coming Tour de France and possibly even challenge for victory at the Olympics.
- This Giro once again proves that we don’t get minutes in the high mountains anymore. The biggest gaps came in short, lower altitude climbs, time trials, or alternative terrain stages. This is a trend in recent grand tours that the media and even directors have yet to catch up with. This shows why riders have to be really aggressive and creative to take time when they can since they can’t simply lean on their TT performances. Just look at Bernal and Caruso, they both gained time on the others with first-week aggression, and in Caruso’s case, an attack on a descent later in the race.
Caruso was impressive
It seems exhausting, but the traditional Tour de France preparation race, Criterium du Dauphine, started on Sunday. However, an interesting thing to note is that while the start list is usually packed with Tour contenders, this year’s start list, mainly due to the absence of Primoz Roglič and Tadej Pogačar, doesn’t include a single Grade A favorite for the win. I will still be keeping a close eye on the proceedings, especially the form of Chris Froome and the Ineos cold war between Richie Porte and Geraint Thomas.
# 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. #