Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers) took another important step to win his first Giro d’Italia as the Colombian rider nearly doubled his overall lead with a late attack on the dreaded Monte Zoncolan on stage 14.
Leader from the 9th stage, where he won the solo victory on the difficult but short gravel climb to the finish at the top of Campo Felice, Bernal has been the most consistent and strong favorite on all climbs. of the Giro to this day.
But the question mark over how he would run on the biggest mountain stages of all in week two and three of the Giro has gone unanswered – until today.
On Zoncolan, the Giro’s most difficult summit finish this year, Bernal more than settled this issue as a rival after the rival fell back and he easily followed Simon Yates (Team BikeExchange) when the Briton broke down. is detached with two kilometers to go, then dropped it with 500 meters to go.
Fourth on the stage behind the first breakaways, Bernal has now strengthened his lead overall by 45 seconds over Aleksandr Vlasov (Astana-Premier Tech), previously second but slipping to fourth overall, at 1:33 over Yates, now his most close pursuer on GC.
When asked if he had done better or worse than he planned, Bernal said: “I’m happy because I finally took some time off my closest rivals. Vlasov was less than ‘a minute, now Yates is second but he’s further back than fine. “
Plus he said, “I continued in pink and it wasn’t raining and it wasn’t cold, well, that was another good thing.” He also pointed out that his back injury, which did so much damage in his 2020 season, still didn’t bother him, giving him even more room for optimism.
While Yates was able to limit the damage to a comparatively rare 11 seconds, others weren’t so lucky.
Remco Evenepoel (Deceuninck-QuickStep) was the first to lose contact two kilometers from the finish, losing 90 seconds at the finish, then when Yates attacked and Bernal called all the other GC contenders fell apart. found in difficulty.
When asked if he considered Yates to be his biggest rival, Bernal said: “They are all dangerous. First of all people said it was Remco, then it was Vlasov I was supposed to be. worry, now it’s Yates. Basically, I need to be sure I’m looking at the mall. “
While Bernal finished the job brilliantly, his teammates were more than capable of destroying the pitch for much of Zoncolan. Gianni Moscon and Jhonatan Narváez took care of the lower slopes, then Jonathan Castroviejo and finally Dani Martínez were more than up to the task when the road picked up speed in the last three kilometers.
However, when Yates attacked, it was up to Bernal to chase him down and he proved more than up to the task.
“He has a lot of experience and I have a lot of respect for him;” Bernal said, “but he was the rival I most expected to attack. Zoncolan is a climb that suited him well.”
“I think I did well, it was a really quick stage, for a lot of the climb I followed wheels, thanks to my teammates who did a brilliant job. Yates is strong, but I glad I got to go with him today when he attacked. “
As for what he did with the Zoncolan himself, Bernal argued that it had been as difficult as he expected, and even using a 36×32 gear it had been a major challenge. “I’ve never experienced another climb like this,” he said, “this last part, in particular, was really tough.”
However, Zoncolan is now behind him, and if Bernal was the rider to beat, the 2021 Giro is now his to lose. The last week of the Giro is undoubtedly the most difficult of the whole event. But Bernal turned out to be in a class of his own on the climbs and the Zoncolan, the most difficult climb in the entire Giro, only underscored that fact.