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Will Saturday’s summit finale at Monte Zoncolan be the finish of the 2021 Giro d’Italia?
Perhaps, but as the saying goes, the race finishes in Milano. And between here and there, as the Giro history reminds us time and again, just about anything can happen.
On three of the previous six occasions the Zoncolan’s featured in the Giro, the overall winner of three editions of the Giro also won on top of the knife-edged climb. Breakaways won two other times, and a GC rider won but did not end up on the final podium.
Which history will repeat itself Saturday?
Egan Bernal certainly looks to be a rider in control of his own destiny.
With the higher and longer climbs yet to come in the final week, Bernal could put the coup de grace on his direct rivals if he brings the legs he’s shown so far in the race.
“Tomorrow is the first true climb of this Giro,” Bernal said. “We will see how things go. It would be nice to win tomorrow, but that would also mean controlling the whole stage. The top goal of the stage will be to defend the pink jersey.”
Also read: Why Monte Zoncolan is so hard
The first true summit finale of the race could deliver some surprises, but from what we’ve seen so far, the surprise would be to see Bernal crack.
If Bernal is strong enough Saturday to gap his rivals and tighten his grip on the pink jersey, it’s hard to imagine anyone or any team having the legs to mount a serious final-week challenge.
Following Friday’s sprint stage, the GC motors are rearing to go. Five riders are still within two minutes of Bernal, with Remco Evenepoel dangling in contention at 2:22 back.
With such a strong team, Bernal will be able to keep the pressure high on any would-be attackers, and then come over the top to widen his lead.
No one inside the Ineos Grenadiers team bus is taking anything for granted. So far, Bernal and his back are holding up just fine. Everyone knows that can change in an instant.
What to watch for: if Bernal is feeling that his back is holding out, expect to see him stay hidden behind the flanks of the forward guard, and then pounce in the final kilometer.
Whether or not that’s good enough for the stage win remains to be seen. It appears that Ineos Grenadiers might let a big break pull clear if there are no GC threats up the road.
That would take pressure off the team, and simplify the task at hand — nudge Bernal up one of Europe’s steepest climbs to defend the pink jersey.
If Bernal buckles, we could have a race on our hands.
If he’s the Bernal of 2019, the race for the podium could start to play out.
Winners on Monte Zoncolan: Top of the class
Winning on cycling’s most famous climbs puts a rider into elite company. Since its men’s debut in the 2003 Giro, Monte Zoncolan quickly was added to the legendary climbs of the sport.
A quick glance down the winner’s list reveals the quality the climb draws out.
The first pro race to venture up the climb was the 1997 Giro d’Italia Femminile, with Italian climbing legend Fabiana Luperini winning the debut climb. Annemiek van Vleuten won in its return in the 2018 Giro Rosa.
On the men’s side, Gilberto Simoni won its debut assault in 2003, crossing the line ahead of GC rival Stefano Garzelli en route to overall victory. Simoni won again in 2007 in the second time the colossus was featured in the Giro. Simoni nipped Leonardo Piepoli at the line, but Simoni could only muster fourth overall behind eventual winner Danilo Di Luca.
Ivan Basso won in 2010 in a key stage in a comeback bid against riders who gained 12 minutes in a long, rainy breakaway into L’Aquila. Basso used Zoncolan to bounce into the virtual podium and had to wait until the Mortirolo to seal overall victory.
Igor Antón won in 2011, and Michael Rogers in 2014, with both riders saying their respective stage victories were career highlights.
Chris Froome won in the last assault in 2018, pulling out a stage win that helped revive his GC aspirations. Froome struggled early in that Giro and barely fended off Simon Yates at the summit. Froome would later famously pounce over the Colle delle Finestre to surge into the pink jersey in an 80km solo breakaway.
Monte Zoncolan stage winners and final GC placing
2003 — Gilberto Simoni, 1st
2007 — Simoni, 4th
2010 — Ivan Basso, 1st
2011 — Igor Antón, 17th
2014 — Michael Rogers, 18th
2018 — Chris Froome, 1st
Fernando Gaviria sprinted without saddle in stage 13
If things weren’t hard enough for Fernando Gaviria so far in this Giro d’Italia, the Colombian sprinter finished off Friday’s stage without a saddle.
Gaviria narrowly avoided crashing in the opening sprint, and has since struggled to punch first across the line.
In what was one of the last chances for sprinters, sharp observers noticed that Gaviria was opening up his sprint in the final meters without a saddle.
Gaviria still managed to finish fifth.
— Eddy Jácome (@EddyJacome) May 21, 2021
Matej Mohorič: ‘The helmet saved my life’
Matej Mohorič says his helmet saved his life in his high-speed descending crash last week at the Giro d’Italia.
The Bahrain-Victorious rider clipped his pedal on an inside corner while descending off the Passo Godi in stage 9, which saw him catapulting over the handlebar.
Also read: Mohorič out after over-the-bars crash
“I lost traction on my rear wheel due to the high speed. I was able to catch the bike, but doing so, I was closer to the corner on my left,” Mohoric said. “Usually, I wouldn’t crash, but due to the curb, I clipped it with my left pedal, which is evident from the damage. Because of that, my bike went completely sideways, and I hit the curb with my front wheel.”
— Sam Edmund (@Sammy__Edmund) May 16, 2021
“Luckily the bike absorbed all the energy as it the fork split, which is why I’ve come out of this crash with only minor bruises and a slight concussion,” he said. “After the crash, I felt a bit of pain and adrenaline rush, but I feel good and will be back training in a week after undergoing the UCI concussion protocol. These crashes always show the importance of wearing a helmet. I’d like to thank our partner Rudy Project, as the helmet saved my life.”
Social media we liked …
His first-ever stage victory at a Grand Tour‼️
— Team Qhubeka NextHash (@QhubekaAssos) May 21, 2021
After 19 runner-up places and 45 top 10 finishes, Giacomo Nizzolo finally gets his first Grand Tour stage victory.
— CafeRoubaix (@CafeRoubaix) May 21, 2021
MONTE ZONCOLAN (last/steepest 2.97 km, 12.86 %, 382 m) | #Giro
2003 | Gilberto Simoni: 12:12, 14.61 Kph, VAM 1879 m/h, 6.35 W/kg (est.)
Simoni attacked immediately after steepest 3 km had begun. First 28 min of Zoncolan (east) are 'waiting game' and last 12 min are decisive. pic.twitter.com/DicXAYDMt5
— ammattipyöräily (@ammattipyoraily) May 21, 2021