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Giro d'Italia

Giro di Hoody: Is the Giro d’Italia set up for final-week reversal?

Egan Bernal bends but does not break as Colombian shows first chink in armor as pink jersey fight enters most dangerous phase.

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Simon Yates knows what it likes to buckle in the final week of the Giro d’Italia.

So, too, does Egan Bernal, who bent but did not break in Wednesday’s firecracker stage that saw the Colombian reveal the first chinks of his pink jersey armor so far in the 2021 Giro.

Could the 2021 Giro set up for another late-hour turn of fortune?

Bernal, who cracked in last year’s Tour de France, certainly isn’t hoping history repeats itself with just four days left to race before the final maglia rosa is his.

“If I win the Giro by one second or two minutes, then it’s the same,” Bernal said. “It was a hard stage, and after the rest day, things were a bit more complicated. Yates went very hard in the final kilometers, and when I tried to follow him, I could see I could not. It was not my best day, but we didn’t lose too much time.”

Also read: Egan Bernal under pressure at Giro

Of all the grand tours, the Giro is most famous for its unpredictable outcomes.

With the exception of last year’s Tour — which produced one of the most unexpected winners in decades with Tadej Pogačar — it’s typically the Giro that delivers the final-week surprises.

Remember Vincenzo Nibali and his closing-days raid in the snowbound Alps in 2016? Or Chris Froome in 2018, with his Merckx-like solo attack of 80km to go over the Passo delle Finestre?

Tao Geoghegan Hart, Tom Dumoulin, and Ryder Hesjedal all won the pink jersey in final-day time trials in 2020, 2017, and 2012, respectively.

Could the 2021 Giro be heading for another wild ending?

Probably not. Here’s why:

On paper, Bernal should have a wrap on this Giro.

Alberto Contador won the 2015 Giro by 1:53 to Italian Fabio Aru. Every other Giro since then has been decided by 65 seconds or less. So in that context, Bernal enjoys a very comfortable lead to second-place Damiano Caruso (Bahrain-Victorious) at 2:21.

Though Bernal ceded three seconds Wednesday to the Italian, Caruso actually ended up helping Bernal to limit the damage to danger-man Yates when the Italian put up the chase to limit the bleeding.

Also read: No Tour de France bid for Bernal after Giro

Is it conceivable that Bernal not only cracks, but buckles in this Giro? The biggest question mark remains his back, which was the cause of his flameout in last summer’s Tour.

Yet the scenario in this Giro is quite different from the 2020 Tour.

By far, Ineos Grenadiers is the strongest team in this Giro. Jonathan Castroviejo and Daniel Martínez are doing a great job protecting Bernal’s flanks in the mountains so far.

Last summer, Jumbo-Visma bull-dozed its way across the Tour, and put a target on Bernal’s back. By doing so, the Dutch team left the door ajar for Pogačar’s penultimate-stage time trial blitz, but there is no team that strong at this Giro putting pressure on Bernal or Ineos Grenadiers.

Also read: Tadej Pogačar and his Merckxian winning streak

Astana-Premier Tech and EF Education-Nippo each tried, but their GC captains are taking on water right now.

That means Bernal only needs to keep Caruso and Yates on a short leash, and he should soon be adding a pink jersey to the yellow one he has at home.

Also, the closing stages don’t pack the punch of a stage like what Froome used as a springboard against Yates in 2018 over the Finestre. Wednesday’s stage was probably the most challenging of what lies ahead.

On paper, the uphill finishes Friday and Saturday should favor Bernal as they dip back into high elevation, and the profiles do not provide a hint of anything representing a possible trap.

And most importantly, Bernal isn’t racing against a time trial specialist like a Dumoulin who could take back big gains in Sunday’s final time trial. Bernal’s no expert against the clock, but neither are any of his direct rivals.

Caruso and Yates will be locked in a bitter fight for the podium, with others such as Aleksandr Vlasov and Hugh Carthy hope to see a reversal of their fortunes.

After stuttering in the cold Monday in the Dolomites, Yates re-emerged Wednesday as the most dangerous rival to Bernal.

Yates still chafes at his loss in the 2018 Giro, and if there’s anyone in the race with the legs, experience, and motivation to take on Bernal, it would be him.

“I’ve said it front the start, we have to take this Giro day by day, and it’s far from over,” Bernal said. “We all know that anything can happen in the Giro until the last possible moment.”

Dan Martin joins ‘three-win’ club

Kudos to Dan Martin, the consummate professional who took a well-deserved stage victory Wednesday.

All eyes were on Egan Bernal and Simon Yates, but the veteran Irishman proved he’s still a factor after 15 years in the elite peloton.

The Israel Start-Up Nation captain buried himself in the final 10km to fend off the chasing GC group to claim his 22nd career victory.

“I have no words to describe this success,” Martin said. “I needed a climb like this, and the sun, to do well.”

Along with such quality wins as Liège-Bastogne-Liège and Giro di Lombardia, the 34-year-old’s victory Wednesday at the Giro also put him into exclusive company.

He’s the latest rider to win stages in all three grand tours. In nearly a century of grand tour racing — the Vuelta a España didn’t begin until the 1930s — few more than 100 riders have won stages in all three grand tours.

Martin also won two stages at the Tour de France, in 2013 and 2018, and two stages at the Vuelta, in 2011 and in 2020 en route to a grand-tour career-best fourth at the Spanish grand tour.

All-time stage-winners in all three grand tours

Eddy Merckx — Giro 24, Tour 24, Vuelta 6 = 64

Mario Cipollini — Giro 42, Tour 12, Vuelta 3 = 57

Mark Cavendish — Giro 15, Tour 30, Vuelta 3 = 48

Alessandro Petacchi — Giro 22, Tour 6, Vuelta 20 = 48

Bernard Hinault — Giro 6, Tour 28, Vuelta 7 = 41

Top active riders: André Greipel, 22; Peter Sagan, 18; Alejandro Valverde, 17; Chris Froome, Vincenzo Nibali, 14 each.

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