Pink jersey-wearing Bernal rocketed away from Simon Yates on the final 20 percent pitches of the horror climb to gain time on all his rivals, settling into an even more comfortable fit in his maglia rosa with a 1:33 lead in the classification.
After starting the day with a strong 45-second lead, Ineos Grenadiers left Astana-Premier Tech to do all the pulling in the peloton Saturday. Bernal and his wrecking crew enjoyed a free ride to the finale, only taking control when it mattered most to position Bernal into the final slopes of Saturday’s summit.
“I just tried to be calm because I think that I’m in a really good position now,” Bernal said. “I don’t need to attack on every mountain stage. I just need to be calm and patient. I followed Yates and then I tried to make an acceleration in the final, and I think that I did a good race.”
Bernal had gone into the Giro with question marks over his hobbled back. Now, after 14 stages, he looks as good, if not better, than he did when he won the Tour de France some 22 months ago.
Three searing attacks – first on the dirt road ascent to Campo Felice, second on this week’s strade bianche stage, and finally Saturday on the Zoncolan – have left Bernal head-and-shoulders ahead of the bunch after six days in the pink jersey.
Thank you, as usual, for this amazing show, Kaiser Zoncolan ❤️
— Giro d'Italia (@giroditalia) May 22, 2021
Although Bernal has proven himself to have the fastest climbing legs in the peloton at this Giro, he’s also had the Ineos Grenadiers steamroller at his disposal.
Ineos Grenadiers has fluctuated between bringing a battering ram to the peloton to control the race and patiently sitting back before taking control with pinpoint accuracy, as it did in the final kilometers of the Zoncolan. The team has been ruthlessly efficient through the Giro, taking charge only when necessary, a strategy in stark contrast to its former Team Sky suffocation tactics.
Maybe Astana-Premier Tech should have been taking notes.
The Kazakh squad pulled the peloton through the entire stage Saturday with the hopes of shuttling Aleksandr Vlasov into the pink jersey, only to see its leader crumble when the action heated up, losing minutes and fading from second to fourth on GC.
“They [Astana-Premier Tech] were pulling really hard during the stage, I was thinking that Vlasov would be good,” Bernal said. “Normally this is a good climb for him so I was surprised that they were pulling so hard in the stage, but then in the final we had control of the race.”
All eyes on the Alps, Dolomites
Bernal and Ineos Grenadiers have poise, power and experience at their sides heading into the attritional third week in the mountains. The race is far from finished however with Yates leading the chase of the pink jersey pretenders.
After faultering through the opening phases of the Giro, Yates looks to be finally hitting his stride. With the race heading to high altitude Monday, he’s hoping to use his favored terrain to his advantage in a bid to unseat Bernal.
“Obviously, Bernal is the man to beat and he showed he had great legs again today,” he said. “It’s going to be tough to beat him but we’ll keep on trying. I just hope to have the legs I had today for the rest of the race now, and hopefully we can try something and try to take the jersey.”
Yates will have a lot of work to do in the final week, and Bernal is remaining cautiously optimistic.
“I think I have a good gap but I need to have focus,” he said. “Everything can happen in the Giro. It looks like 1:33 is enough time but you never know.”
The final 30-kilometer time trial makes for a stone in Bernal’s shoe, where he’s likely to lose time on his nearest rivals. But if he and his team continue the way they’ve been going the past two weeks, he may be so far in front by then that he could freewheel into the pink jersey in Milano.