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Giro d'Italia

Giro d’Italia: Egan Bernal and George Bennett at opposite ends of GC battle

Jumbo-Visma putting GC ambitions on hold while Ineos Grenadiers could carry pink jersey into week 2.

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Egan Bernal and George Bennett are opposite ends of GC battle at the Giro d’Italia.

The Colombian nears the end of the first week with the wind at his back, while the New Zealand national champion is putting his pink jersey aspirations on ice.

Jumbo-Visma is reshuffling its Giro ambitions following a pair of stinging losses from Bennett, who ceded 7:14 in Thursday’s first test in the mountains, and that came on top of losses Tuesday that see him tumbling to 31st on GC at 8:55 back.

“We came to the Giro to ride a good overall classification with George”, sports director Addy Engels said. “We now have to be realistic and conclude that that plan can be put on hold for the time being.”

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Bennett, 31, rode into the Giro with outright leadership of the powerful Jumbo-Visma squad, and harbored dreams of a possible run at the final podium in Milano.

Barely a week into the race, however, the team is scuttling those ambitions.

The team will try to salvage something out of the Giro by targeting stage victories with Dylan Groenewegen, perhaps as soon as Friday’s seventh stage, or by backing Tobias Foss, the 2019 Tour de l’Avenir winner who climbed into the top-20 on Thursday.

Bennett’s culprit? The cold and wet weather that’s marred the opening climbing stages so far in the first week.

“George was affected by the cold and was completely empty at the end. We gave him dry and warm clothes and tried to give him as much energy as possible,” Engels said. “He was able to return on the final climb with the help of Koen, but after that it was all over.

“In the end we made the call that Tobias could go for his own chances,” Engels continued. “What Tobias has shown is a good performance. He didn’t finish too far behind the best climbers. Hopefully Tobias can continue like this. We will have to make other plans for the remainder of this Giro.”

Bennett’s rocky start to the 2021 Giro reconfirms that nothing can be taken for granted in grand tour racing.

Egan Bernal passing first tests

At the other end of the momentum scale is Bernal.

The 24-year-old Colombian is quietly gaining confidence following another strong performance Thursday.

Ineos Grenadiers took the race by the scruff of the neck, putting the team on the front on the middle climbs to crack overnight leader Alessandro De Marchi (Israel Start-Up Nation), and then chaperone Bernal to the base of the final climb.

“The original plan was to not lose time in what was the first test in a longer climb,” Bernal said. “We weren’t sure how the legs were going to be, we were going to be conservative. During the race we realized that we were feeling good, it started to rain and we wanted to be at the front.”

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Ineos Grenadiers ripped a page from its playbook, and steamrolled the second half of the stage. Despite losing Pavel Sivakov to a crash Wednesday, the team rallied around Bernal in the 2021 Giro’s first mountaintop finale.

Filippo Ganna and Jonathan Castroviejo took big pulls to splinter the group. Dani Martínez attacked first, and Bernal moved behind him. Only Remco Evenepoel, Dan Martin and Giulio Ciccone could follow the Colombian’s accelerations.

“I think it was an aggressive race, in the end in the headwind, people in the wheels were able to conserve some energy, so the strategy wasn’t quite a successful,” Bernal said. “It all worked out, we didn’t lose any time, a few seconds with a couple of our riders, but we’re taking it bit-by-bit.”

Bernal’s reaction Tuesday and Thursday is bolstering hopes inside the Ineos Grenadiers team bus.

Bernal rides into Sunday’s third overall at 16 seconds back, and is poised to carry the pink jersey into the second week if he has a good day at the Cat. 1 summit at Rocca di Cambio.

“It was hard, but it was also amazing. We didn’t wait. It wasn’t planned,” Bernal said. “It didn’t do exactly what we wanted, you have to take those opportunities.”