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Giro d'Italia

Giro di Hoody: The Giro delivers a dream GC matchup in Remco Evenepoel vs. Egan Bernal

The emerging GC battle between two of the peloton's youngest stars is setting up an epic edition of the Giro d'Italia.

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Remco Evenepoel vs. Egan Bernal — RCS Sport couldn’t have dreamed of a better GC showdown.

You can’t blame them if race organizers of the 2021 Giro d’Italia are pinching themselves right now.

Nearly a week into the race, the battle for pink is shaping up to be Egan Bernal vs Remco Evenepoel.

Bingo!

Attila Valter (Groupama-FDJ) might be in pink Thursday, but Evenepoel is second at 11 seconds back, and Bernal in third at 16 back. Either one of them could carry pink out of this weekend.

Also read: Ineos Grenadiers and the Egan Bernal enigma

The Giro — a grand tour always living in the shadow of the Tour de France — now boasts one of the most exciting head-to-head rivalries in cycling.

There are no riders in the peloton right now that set pulses racing like Bernal or Evenepoel. Both come from cycling-crazed nations, both are young, talented, and unabashedly ambitious, and both bring panache and charisma the sport so desperately need.

And both want to win this Giro d’Italia.

Sure, Tadej Pogačar wins kudos with his fearless racing, and Primož Roglič deserves respect for brutal consistency. But neither man move the ever-important media needle on an international level as Bernal and Remco. In post-race comments, they’re both as about as exciting as a well-scripted politician reading cue cards.

By contrast, Bernal oozes Latin American coolness, and Evenepoel is quickly exploding into cycling’s newest superstar.

In a sport sometimes filled with nice-guy watt-babies, a little style and flair is just what pro cycling so desperately needs.

Also read: Deceuninck-Quick-Step not putting any pressure on Remco

Cycling’s biggest champions used to be larger-than-life characters. Their mere presence would draw awe from mere mortals, and reduce hacks to fawning fans with a press badge. Simply standing next to Bernard Hinault in his prime would intimidate the brawniest of racers.

In this day and age of social media and 24-7 total access, when everyone shares their inner most and sometimes banal parts of their lives, perhaps it’s inevitable that the old-school concept of “sporting hero” is changing.

Hinault is only remembered in gritty, black-and-white photography. Today’s stars long lost their mystery in exchange for a closeness and intimacy that fans never knew before.

Bernal and even more-so Evenepoel are bringing back some of that mystery and allure.

Bernal is quiet and reserved, and is hidden behind a cloak of Colombian charm. Evenepoel is more gregarious, outspoken and not afraid to speak his mind.

ASCOLI PICENO - SAN GIACOMO, ITALY - MAY 13: Remco Evenepoel of Belgium and Team Deceuninck - Quick-Step at start during the 104th Giro d'Italia 2021, Stage 6 a 160km stage from Grotte di Frasassi to Ascoli Piceno - San Giacomo 1090m / @girodiitalia / #Giro / #UCIworldtour / on May 13, 2021 in Ascoli Piceno - San Giacomo, Italy. (Photo by Stuart Franklin/Getty Images)
Remco Evenepoel is relaxed so far in his grand tour debut. Photo: Stuart Franklin/Getty Images

Both are the undeniable ascending powers in the peloton, yet each are returning from perhaps career-defining injuries and setbacks.

The stakes couldn’t be higher in this Giro for both riders.

After imploding in the 2020 Tour de France, Bernal sees pressure to perform and wants to erase questions about his back and resolve. Evenepoel, though riding with less pressure in his grand tour debut, is racing for the first time since crashing into a ravine at Il Lombardia in August.

This Giro is a collision course of their comeback stories and their innate, raw talent and unbridled ambition.

With the early exits of such GC candidates as Mikel Landa and Pavel Sivakov, and early struggles from the likes of Joâo Almeida, Jai Hindley and George Bennett, this Giro was in danger of losing some of its spark.

Thursday’s first major mountaintop finale was just the teaser. Ineos Grenadiers piled on, and Bernal come on over the top. Evenepoel was all over it.

If Remco and Bernal go pedal stroke to pedal stroke all the way to Milano, this could be remembered as one of the best editions of the Giro ever.

The stage is set for an monumental battle.

Let’s hope Bernal’s back holds up, and Evenepoel’s legs hold out.

It’s a shame that this Giro is being contested under COVID restrictions. Just imagine the insanity in the Dolomites with Remco and Egan sparring head-to-head for pink, riding through a sea of tens of thousands of crazed Belgian and Colombian fans.

That would be as old-school as it gets.

Another Giro milestone: Hungary’s first pink jersey

ASCOLI PICENO - SAN GIACOMO, ITALY - MAY 13: Attila Valter of Hungary and Team Groupama - FDJ Pink Leader Jersey celebrates at podium during the 104th Giro d'Italia 2021, Stage 6 a 160km stage from Grotte di Frasassi to Ascoli Piceno - San Giacomo 1090m / Mask / Covid safety measures / Champagne / @girodiitalia / #Giro / #UCIworldtour / on May 13, 2021 in Ascoli Piceno - San Giacomo, Italy. (Photo by Stuart Franklin/Getty Images)
Attila Valter is Hungary’s first leader of a grand tour. Photo: Stuart Franklin/Getty Images

Attila Valter, the 22-year-old climber on Groupama-FDJ, rode into the history books Thursday.

Valter vaulted from fourth to first in the rainy climbing stage to become Hungary’s first pink jersey. In fact, he’s the first Hungarian ever to lead one of cycling’s grand tours.

“I cannot be more surprised or happier,” Valter said. “I was planning to do it, and I knew I had the good climbing legs to go stronger than the riders in front of me, and I just had to hang on with the best climbers today. It was not an easy stage with the weather conditions, but I can just cry right now. I was trying to keep eyes on everyone. I saw them all in front of me, but I felt in my legs I had the strength. The motivation gives you extra power.”

The jersey is a boon for the French team, which lost the services of Thibaut Pinot, and is sending last year’s Giro sprinter ace Arnaud Démare to the Tour.

Valter should be able to carry it into the weekend. With Friday’s mostly flat sprint stage and Saturday’s transition stage, Groupama-FDJ will only need to control breakaways. Sunday’s explosive hilltop finale — 3.1km at 6.5 percent — could come down to the wire.

OK — give us your best Attila puns. Attila the Spun is in pink (apologies in advance).

Pieter Serry survives impact with team car

In a bizarre moment late in Thursday’s stage, a Team BikeExchange car bumped into the back of Deceuninck-Quick-Step’s loyal domestique Pieter Serry and knocked him to the ground.

In the sometimes chaotic movement of cars, bikes and bodies at the back of the peloton, Serry abruptly ended up on the pavement.

The Belgian rider was not too happy about, and rightly so. It was not clear exactly what happened, but it appeared the team car was passing something to a race organizer’s car at the moment of impact. Serry was climbing at the moment, so the speed of impact was not excessive, but any impact between car and bicycle can end badly.

He was lucky he was not injured, and team officials confirmed Serry was able to finish the stage without further incident. After the stage ended the UCI jury ruled to boot BikeExchange DS Gene Bates from the race, and relegate the team’s car to last place in the convoy for Friday’s stage 7. Also, team DS Matt White gets a 2,000 CHF fine.

Super-Classic … why not?

OK, this has nothing to do with the Giro d’Italia, but hear me out on my bold idea for the classics season.

There’s the Super Bowl. Why not a “Super Classic?”

Here’s something that maybe one of those newly minted Bitcoin millionaires or Silicon Valley bike-geek billionaires could wrap their arms around: how about sponsoring a “Super Classic” to conclude the spring classics campaign?

Here’s what I am thinking: create a route across Belgium that links the cycling landmarks of the Flanders and the Wallonne regions in Belgium.

Hold the race a few days after Liège-Bastogne-Liège, perhaps starting in Liège, and tackle the key climbs in reverse on the way down to Bastogne, then wind back for a passage up the Mur de Huy, before zig-zagging over some of the terrain of Brabantse Pijl. Keep pushing east, and then finish it off with the Kwaremont-Paterberg double?

And the zinger? Offer $1 million in first-place prize money.

That would probably tempt Tom Boonen and Fabian Cancellara out of retirement.

Sound wacky? Yeah, but that’s what I would do if I were the Jeff Bezos of sweat.

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