Giro’21 BREAKDOWN: Bernal’s Big Ring Blast Turns Pink


Race Breakdown: After the first nine Giro d’Italia stages it’s usually too soon to be making solid predictions, but Spencer Martin gives us a better idea of ‘who’s hot’ and who’s stone cold as the general classification contenders emerge from the first high mountain finish.

Bernal showed a lot of strength in the stage 9 finalé

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The beautiful Abruzzo

A mostly subdued day through the rugged and beautiful Abruzzo region gave way to a thrilling fight for the general classification on stage 9 of the Giro d’Italia. The racing heated up on the steep, gravel final climb to the stage finish at Campo Felice ski station where Egan Bernal threw down with authority in the final few hundred meters of the uphill finish to seize the stage win from Giulio Ciccone and Aleksandr Vlasov, as well as taking the pink leader’s jersey right from the back of Attila Valter.

Attila Valter tried hard, but it was only a matter of time

Bernal now leads the race by 15-seconds over Remco Evenepoel, who put in an impressive effort to finish 4th on the stage, even after a severe positioning mishap, and 21-seconds over Vlasov, who is in the midst of a breakout grand tour ride. If the young Colombian can get through tomorrow’s likely sprint stage without incident, he will ride into Tuesday’s rest day looking as though he certainly has the best chance of overall victory. But, lurking threats certainly remain below him in the GC standings, and if the Giro has taught us anything in recent years, it’s that nothing is certain until we reach Milano.

Remco Evenepoel: Waiting in the wings, or…

The Good

  • Bernal gets a commanding stage win and stamps his authority on the race and rides into the Maglia Rosa.
  • His decision to let off the gas slightly to shift into the big ring with 300 meters to go showed great presence of mind and it allowed him to ride at a much higher pace than everyone else. It also shows a lot of confidence in his ability to stay in the big ring on the 12% gravel slopes. While everyone else was spinning in the saddle, he was able to stand up and generate a massive amount of torque, which makes the difference on these short, explosive finishes.
  • His Ineos team looked to have stuffed up the strategy to pull back the break and deliver Bernal the time bonuses after they had to get off the front with 16km-to-go, but in retrospect, it worked out perfectly. They didn’t have to invest a huge amount of energy too far from the finish and still pulled the break back to deliver Bernal the 10-second time bonus.
  • Bernal didn’t get a huge amount of time, but the stage was never going to produce huge time gaps. This is about as good as he could have hoped for. And as I said in the race notes, the fact that he was able to look so comfortable out-of-the-saddle on the gravel speaks to the fact that his back is likely quite healthy and that he is very motivated to put as much time into Evenepoel as possible.
  • He and his Ineos team have learned from Jumbo’s mistake of being overly defensive too early at the 2020 Tour. If he loses this race in the stage 21 time trial, nobody will be able to say it was due to taking the other GC favorites too lightly and waiting until the third week to attack.

INEOS raw power

  • Ineos might not have the raw power in years past, but they are making up for it with inventive, intelligent, and aggressive racing. Getting Dani Martinez into an early break was a great idea to put pressure on the others to chase. They weren’t able to grind down the peloton in the last 30km like they used to, but in the end, they did just enough to launch Bernal and win the stage.
  • Also, Dani Martinez is still in 12th place overall at only 1’12 back, so the option to get him into another early break remains.
  • Vlasov has looked great the entire race and hasn’t really put a foot wrong outside of losing a bit of time on the stage 6 finish. This is the best I’ve ever seen him look in a grand tour. There has been a lot of chatter about Evenepoel being in the “leader in the clubhouse” due to his superior time trial ability, but Vlasov finished only five seconds behind Evenepoel in the opening TT and has looked the superior climber at most points so far. Long story short, Evenepoel likely isn’t the only lurking rider Ineos is trying shake on these explosive finishes.
  • Ciccone has a great day and cements himself as the Trek GC leader over the battered Vincenzo Nibali.
  • Evenepoel finished the stage incredibly strong, possibly even riding the final 200 meters faster than any other rider in the race.

Ciccone had a great day

For Further Consideration

  • However, Evenepoel’s inexperience really stood out today. The young Belgian was incredibly foolish to stick his nose in the wind with 14km-to-go, and even if he wants to break the race up there, he needs to let his teammates do the work, since investing that much energy before a final climb is rarely ever worth it.
  • His positioning heading into the steep, gravel pitch also appeared to be a rookie mistake. He had a great recovery to finish 4th and actually appeared to be riding faster than Bernal in the final 200 meters, but these positioning mistakes will be relevant as the race goes on and a great reminder that he isn’t used to fighting for position at the end of races.
    Evenepoel is sitting in a great position in 2nd place at 15-seconds back and would still easily win the overall if we went into the final TT tomorrow, but he has lost 35-seconds to Bernal in only three GC stages. And we haven’t even gotten to Bernal’s preferred terrain yet, the high mountains.
  • Yates, Carthy, and Buchmann finished 12-seconds behind Bernal. Carthy loses a GC spot and Yates fails to move out of 9th. None of the damage inflicted on Carthy and Yates is irreversible, but they certainly haven’t impressed so far. Perhaps they are waiting in the weeds to take time in the third week, but as things stand, they will have a hard time staying with Bernal on the toughest climbs.

We’ve not seen much of Carthy and nothing of Yates

Looking Forward

  • Some of the post-race shows were saying we haven’t yet reached Evenepoel’s best terrain, the long and high mountain passes, and that of course Bernal will be better on the punchier finishes we’ve had so far. But I don’t really understand this logic. Bernal is one of the best high mountain climbers in the world, while Evenepoel doesn’t even have a WorldTour race experience on long climbs, so it seems somewhat silly to just assume he will be better than Bernal on the high alpine climbs when we get to the third week.
  • In my opinion, today was just a warning shot from Bernal. And remember, the Colombian climber got 3rd place at this year’s Strade Bianche race over the white gravel roads of Tuscany, which is nearly the same course the peloton will face on Wednesday for stage 11. So Bernal could have yet another chance to put time into the other GC favorites before we get to the serious mountains, where I expect him to put even more time into them.
  • Something else to consider; Evenepoel has never experienced a rest day, or more importantly, the day after a rest day, in his professional career. These notoriously tricky days can cause even the strongest riders to suffer, and Wednesday’s stage 11 could be especially tricky for him.

Does Egan Bernal have the 2021 Giro in the bag?

giro21 st 11
Wednesday’s stage 11 could be especially tricky – Remember 2010

# 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. #

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