Egan Bernal fails to fade | a recap of Stages 17-21 of the 2021 Giro d’Italia

Photos of sportsfolk kissing trophies don’t ordinarily do it for me, but the one above amuses me because Egan Bernal seems to be getting into it just a little too much. Buy it a meal first, Egan!

Bernal’s 2021 Giro d’Italia victory was Ineos/Sky’s third in four years in the race. The other winner, Richard Carapaz, has since moved to them.

Bernal’s win seemed highly likely after two weeks. Taken in isolation, the third week was a little less glorious. You could almost argue that he won the Giro by losing really well because throughout the final week, he did an excellent job of accepting when he was beaten and pacing himself to ensure it wasn’t by too much.

Summit finish 1 out of 3

Stage 17 was the first of three summit finishes in the final week and it brought a moment that made it look like I have half an idea what I’m talking about.

At the end of the second week, with Egan Bernal apparently storming to victory, I pointed out that it’s rare for a rider to be the strongest throughout all three weeks of a Grand Tour.

With 4km to go, Simon Yates attacked and only Bernal and his Colombian team mate Daniel Martinez (not to be confused with Irishman Dan Martin who’d got into the day’s break and was up the road about to win the stage) were able to follow him.

These three quickly caught João Almeida who’d attempted to strike out alone a minute earlier. Almeida’s nominal team leader, Remco Evenepoel, had lost 24 minutes on the previous stage and was now in the process of losing half an hour after going over a guard rail during a mass crash on a descent. The Belgian’s first Grand Tour has been a colourful one. He later abandoned.

Yates kept pushing and with just over 3km to go, he discovered that the pace he could sustain exceeded what Bernal could do.

Bettini/LaPresse

Martinez tried to wait for his leader but struggled to ride slowly enough. At this point it seemed like we could have a really exciting week on our hands.

Yates promptly set about stretching out the gap as much as he could. Strikingly, his efforts saw him drop Almeida multiple times only for the Portuguese rider to repeatedly fight back and somehow finish ahead of the Briton. The 22-year-old would go on to repeat this trick on subsequent stages before finishing first out of all the overall contenders in the final time trial.

By the finish, Yates had recouped almost a minute on Bernal, which left him 3m23s adrift in third.

Damiano Caruso also managed to finish a few seconds ahead of the race leader and remained second overall.

Caruso’s position at this point in the race was a weird one. Despite being the rider closest to an apparently ailing leader, people still didn’t really think of him as a potential winner.

In fact even he didn’t.

“I’ve had a lot of messages telling me to attack Bernal and do the impossible,” he said. “But it’s difficult, because it’s at the limit of my capabilities. It’s something that’s not in my range. People might want an acceleration or something from me, but I can assure them it’s very hard for me.”

Maybe it’s that attitude that has kept him riding in support of others his entire career. (He was only supposed to be helping Mikel Landa in this race). It’s fairly late now that he’s 33, but perhaps he should have a rethink.

Three other contenders – Hugh Carthy, Romain Bardet and Giulio Ciccone – were dropped earlier on and in so doing shed their last hopes of victory.

Summit finish 2 out of 3

Stage 18 brought 231km in which there were no changes to the top ten and then, with tired legs, the riders set about summit finish number two.

Entirely predictably, Yates repeated his trick – this time attacking with about 6km to go. Caruso went with him, as did Almeida and fourth-placed Alexandr Vlasov.

Bernal did not.

Is there anything that mitigates suffering quite like the knowledge that your rival is behind you, moving slower and suffering more? Only a few hundred metres after his initial attack, Yates accelerated again.

It was a good job he did. Bernal, riding behind two surviving team-mates, soon caught the others and when his team-mates folded, he sped up.

For a while it had seemed as if he might lose minutes to Yates but it only ended up as 28 seconds.

Almeida finished second, between the two of them. His visible agony from trying to stay with Bernal apparently not enough to dissuade him from riding off ahead of him as they neared the line.

Summit finish 3 of 3

When the final mountain stage got underway, Yates had 2m49s to claw back on Bernal and Caruso had 2m29s. Everyone else was over six minutes back and completely out of contention.

Another Yates win was the obvious prediction, but after the peloton was stretched early in the stage – by the descents as much as the climbs – Caruso was the one to take the initiative. Sixth-placed Romain Bardet and a team-mate set off on a bit of a hit-and-hope attack with 50km to go and the Sicilian unexpectedly went with him.

Fabio Ferrari/LaPresse

The prospect of a heist diminished with each kilometre though as Bernal’s loyal assistant Martinez dragged the group behind to ensure the gap never grew to much more than 20 or 30 seconds.

Caruso got the stage win and Bernal managed second place 25 seconds back, having detached Yates in the final kilometre.

With time gaps large, the final time trial was therefore little more than a formality. Another Ineos rider, Filippo Ganna, won it. He is now in the kind of form where he can be almost guaranteed to win a flat time trial, even if he has to stop for a puncture, as he did for this one.

The final standings

A return to form for Bernal, a solid third from Yates, but in all honesty the big news is that Caruso has spent a good chunk of his career riding to help people who were almost certainly worse at bike racing than him. Hey-ho, a surprise late bloom is probably more entertaining than a decade of similar near misses.

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