Egan Bernal’s back | a recap of Stages 1-10 of the 2021 Giro d’Italia

Marco Alpozzi/LaPresse

Egan Bernal’s back. As in ‘returned’. But also as in ‘his spine’ because we’ll need to talk about his scoliosis a bit too.

Before that, let’s have a quick jaunt through the stages that have meaningfully affected the overall standings as we arrive at what I’m going to call ‘the halfway stage’ despite the mathematical inaccuracy.

A start for the end

Stages of the Giro tend to grow in significance as the race wears on. The biggest mountain stages typically come late and back-to-back and this means that the opening week is a period where the time gaps are generally of less importance than the invisible tenderisation that’s taking place within each rider.

The opening time trial was an interesting one though – not so much for how it set up the overall standings, but for what it said about each of the overall contenders with Stage 21 also being a flat time trial.

After a slightly fallow period, Filippo Ganna reverted to being the best time trialist in the world. However, of more interest to us was Remco Evenepoel, who was the only person who is going for the overall to break into the top ten.

He gained a shrug-inducing five seconds on Alexandr Vlasov over the 8.6km course, but a rather more striking 20 seconds on Egan Bernal, who – in case you hadn’t noticed – is the man who’s made his way into the headline of this article.

The final stage is 30.3km so if Evenepoel is within a few seconds of the race lead then he’ll be feeling pretty damn happy.

The wayside

Does the word ‘wayside’ ever get used other than in reference to people falling by it?

It was largely a quiet week characterised by low-key jockeying among the riders I’d picked out as possible contenders before the race. There were however some non-excellent developments for a couple of them on Stage 4.

You may well have missed this if you’ve been watching the highlights on Quest – because they inexplicably broadcast Stage 1 for a second time instead – but Kiwi rider George Bennett lost a minute and a half, while João Almeida, who’d ridden so well to finish fourth in last year’s Giro, lost 4m30s.

On Stage 5, two contenders crashed out. Mikel Landa broke his collarbone and a few ribs in a crash near the end, while Pavel Sivakov had exited earlier that same day.

Stage 6 then saw last year’s runner-up Jai Hindley distanced and he lost a couple of minutes.

The week’s main action

Foto Fabio Ferrari/LaPresse

With the cast now somewhat thinned, it was finally time for some action at the front of the race on Stage 9.

A summit finish on gravel roads was an invitation for someone to attack. That person was Egan Bernal who did so in strikingly frenetic fashion, careering away from everyone inside the final kilometre and shooting past the last two breakaway riders as if he’d found some secret downhill while everyone else was still going uphill.

The effort netted him 10 seconds on Evenepoel plus a 10-second bonus for winning the stage. That plus various other unremarkable bits and bobs from throughout the week meant he went into the first rest day with a 14-second lead. It’s not a lot, but then last year’s race was won by 39 seconds.

Here’s the top ten.

Egan Bernal’s back

After winning the 2019 Tour de France, Bernal abandoned last year’s Tour with a back injury and was later diagnosed with the spinal condition scoliosis, which brought an end to his season. At the gnarled, wisened old age of 24, it feels like the Colombian is already deep into a difficult mid-career period after which he’ll either sink or soar.

His scoliosis derives from a muscular imbalance and as such isn’t necessarily a lifelong thing. At the same time, three-week bike racing is an activity that tends to expose and exacerbate seemingly minor physical ailments.

Bernal says he still has ‘doubts’ about his back and undergoes physio before and after every stage. He has also said that he’s ‘always’ had pain.

While his lead is currently only mere seconds, it does feel like his own spine is as much a player in this race as Alexandr Vlasov, Remco Evenepoel or whoever.

Stages 11-21

It’s worth emphasising at this point that pretty much all the really hard stages are still to come. We’ve had a glimpse of form from Bernal, but not much more than that. It may well be that different riders come to the fore later in the race when the long climbs start to arrive with greater frequency.

I’ll be back in a week or so with a recap of the second half of the race and hopefully also some news about a new and improved email for this year’s Tour de France and beyond.