Egan Bernal o’er hill and gravel | a recap of Stages 11-16 of the 2021 Giro d’Italia

Fabio Ferrari/LaPresse

Yes, I know I said I’d recap the whole second half of the race last time around, but I changed my mind. I figure doing something after each week will keep the articles down to a more manageable size.

Where things stand on the second rest day

Egan Bernal is still in the lead and he’s in the lead by quite a bit more.

Let’s take a look at how he got there.

Gravel

Stage 11 was one almost everyone was very excited about because loads of the route was on gravel. Strade Bianche, the Italian one-day race that exploits the same surfaces, has rapidly become one of the most popular classics of the year, while Cadel Evans’ 2010 win on a similar Giro stage has gone down as one of the great days of Grand Tour racing.

Fabio Ferrari/LaPresse

The terrain duly broke the peloton down into bite-size chunks quite early on.

It’s as easy as riding a bike they say, but presumably they’re not talking about riding downhill on loose surfaces when they say this. From about 65km to go, Remco Evenepoel began seeing everyone else in the favourites’ group ride away from him on each descent.

Maybe the young Belgian’s not as comfortable with this sort of thing as others, or maybe the memory of going over the side of a bridge in the Tour of Lombardy last year was hampering his cornering. Whatever the reason, the repeated efforts to catch back up eventually told and he lost touch for good with around 20km still to cover.

You couldn’t help but feel for Remco in the closing stages. No one rode harder. It was just that most of his rivals rode faster. He lost two minutes. (Doesn’t he sound like a US DIY store, by the way? You could definitely get a very large volume of paint stripper at a ludicrously affordable price down at your local branch of Remco.)

It was a tough day for everyone though and with 6km to go, someone flipped a switch on two-time Giro winner, Vincenzo Nibali. From hanging in the main group apparently untroubled, he lost ground so rapidly that he only actually finished 10 seconds ahead of Evenepoel.

With 4km to go, Bernal attacked. No one could match him. Even the man who was in that very moment becoming his closest challenger, Alexandr Vlasov, lost 23 seconds.

The Zoncolan

Stages 12 and 13 didn’t bring any meaningful changes to the overall classification, but Saturday finished with Monte Zoncolan, during which the riders gained 1.2 vertical kilometres in 14km of riding.

It was always going to be a key day. The only question was who was going to benefit. The answer was Bernal again.

First of all, when they hit the steepest sections near the top, the up-until-now low profile Simon Yates dropped everyone bar Bernal.

Bernal then dropped Yates.

LaPresse

Bernal gained 11 seconds on Yates, who rose to second, while Vlasov lost over a minute, which moved him far enough behind that I imagine this’ll be the last time I mention him.

At this point, 1m33s adrift, Yates would probably have been thinking back to that time he’d been the strongest rider in the Giro for the first two weeks before very suddenly and very clearly not being with just a few days to go.

Rain and snow

Stage 15 didn’t much matter but Stage 16 was one of those hellish stages the Giro so often seems to serve up for the riders.

It was originally supposed to be 212km long with four massive climbs and most of the route above 1,000m. As it turned out, the weather was so monumentally bad that they had to alter this.

It ended up a mere 153km with the Passo Giau the main road challenge (10km at 9.3%, peaking at 2,200m) but exacerbated by a near-freezing deluge that made TV pictures impossible for half the day. The riders then had to descend at speed in the wet to the finish line.

It was a day when the contenders knew there was going to be damage, so everyone pressed on. Yates couldn’t hack the pace going up Passo Giau and lost 2m30s. Bernal drove the group so hard that by halfway up he was on his own.

It was still 20km to the finish at this point, but if you’re the best, you’re the best. You might as well go with it. You’re not exactly going to wait for everyone, are you?

The biggest threat came from the lads at the top who were inexplicably wielding chainsaws with which to cheer the riders on.

He was about 1m20s ahead by the summit and that gap then became 27s by the finish because Romain Bardet is nuts.

The Frenchman toboganned insanely to second on the stage with veteran Italian rider Damiano Caruso apparently just as bonkers after finishing on the same time in third.

Evenepoel lost – wait for it – 24 minutes.

The top seven

Given the time gaps, there’s no point looking at anyone outside the top seven and probably most of these guys are irrelevant too, if I’m honest.

Of interest to British fans, Hugh Carthy has bobbed up to third – largely through not having any truly dreadful days.

The final “week”

There are actually only five stages left, so as weeks go, it’s a working one rather than a calendar one.

It basically boils down to…

  • Wednesday: Summit finish
  • Thursday: 228km with sharp hills at the end
  • Friday: Summit finish
  • Saturday: Summit finish
  • Sunday: 30km time trial

There’s obviously an element of Bernal v Bernal’s Back as the workload starts to stack up, but don’t rule out someone else having a stronger finish to the race either.

The Colombian is far and away the best rider at the minute, but it’s not often that someone’s the best rider throughout all three weeks of the Giro d’Italia. The winner tends to have two good weeks – and generally the two hardest ones.

I’ll be back at some point next week to wrap things up.