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Giro d'Italia

Giro di Hoody: Egan Bernal delivers message to Remco Evenepoel, rivals

'Gran' Bernal delivers his finest performance since winning the 2019 Tour de France to gap rivals and tighten grip on pink jersey.

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Egan Bernal sent a blistering message to arch-rival Remco Evenepoel and everyone else on Wednesday on the hilly gravel roads of Tuscany: if you want this pink jersey, you’re going to take it from me.

The Colombian showed his best legs yet in this Giro d’Italia, and finished off superb knife-twisting from teammate Gianni Moscon in a thrilling day of racing.

Moscon might not win any popularity contests, but his performance Wednesday confirmed why he remains on Ineos Grenadiers. The Italian drilled the watts at the front of an ever-dwindling GC group on the treacherous gravel roads, dropping the likes of Evenepoel, Dan Martin, and Davide Formolo.

Bernal took over from there, and blitzed to the finish line in perhaps his finest performance since winning the 2019 Tour de France.

“It was a good stage. It was very fast, with a lot of movement, and the team was impressive,” Bernal said. “In the end, we could take advantage of the situation and take some time. You cannot count out any of these riders yet — Yates, Vlasov, Carthy — they are going to be strong in the final week. We have to be careful and measure the efforts, and try to find the balance between taking more time and saving some reserves for what lies ahead.”

Bernal’s confidence is growing with each stage. At the beginning of the Giro, even he was unsure how he would respond. Now with half the race in his legs (and rehabbed back), Bernal now finds himself in a very enviable situation.

Though the gaps are still relatively close — the top are separated by less than 1:22 — Bernal can use his advantage to keep pressuring his rivals.

Wednesday’s stage was an important hurdle for Bernal. An excellent bike-handler, the former mountain biker handled the uneven gravel with ease. If his rivals thought they could use the terrain to rattle him, they were wrong.

Ineos Grenadiers bull-dozed across the hills of Tuscany, and Bernal left his rival flattened in his wake.

The next big test is Monte Zoncolan on Saturday. The climb goes up the “easier” side of the knife-ridge summit, but it’s still going to be an absolutely decisive stage.

Bernal will be able to count on his teammates to control the race until the final climb, and if he packs the horsepower, he can set the tempo to force his rivals to attack him. If no one can, then the fight for the podium will begin in earnest.

Aleksandr Vlasov — from Russia with luck

Aleksandr Vlasov could be the GC hope that Russian cycling has waited on for more than a decade.

Russian cycling backers spent millions over the past decade or so to develop a homegrown potential grand-tour winner. Many are starting to believe they’ve found one.

The second-year WorldTour pro with Astana-Premier Tech climbed into second overall Wednesday, with just 45 seconds to Bernal and the pink jersey.

“On the last climb I tried to follow the attack of Bernal but it was not easy, however, I am pretty satisfied with my performance as I know that the team and me we did our best,” Vlasov said Wednesday. “I am happy to pass through this stage without any trouble and now I would like to concentrate on the next hard stages as all the big mountains are yet to come.”

Vlasov is emerging as a WorldTour presence just as Russian billionaire supporter Igor Makarov stepped away from backing the Katusha project at the end of 2019.

Only three Russians have won the Giro — Evgeni Berzin, Pavel Tonkov, and Denis Menchov — so could Vlasov deliver?

A few Russian prodigies have come and gone, but no one really rose to the challenge over the past 10 years or so after Menchov’s best years were behind him.

Many hoped that Ilnur Zakarin could have been the chosen one, yet despite a promising third at the 2017 Vuelta a España, his GC promise seems to have morphed into stage-hunter mode. Zakarin dipped to the ProTeam level in 2021 with Gazprom.

Ineos Grenadiers’ Pavel Sivakov, whose Russian parents were both former racers, is another Russian hope. Yet Sivakov was born in Italy, raised in France, raced on BMC’s former development team, and is firmly part of the Team Ineos structure. And though he speaks Russian and holds a Russian racing license, Sivakov did not come up through the rank-and-file of the Russian development program like Vlasov.

It’s Vlasov who is getting home fans excited. He grew up near the Russian-Finnish border in Vyborg, the same hometown of Viatcheslav Ekimov. He raced at a local academy before linking up with the Russian national team, and shipping off to race as a junior in Italy.

After a hot 2020 COVID-delayed season, which included 11th overall at the Vuelta a España in his grand tour debut last year, Vlasov looks to be the real deal.

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