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The Colombian has been super aggressive in the opening week of the corsa rosa, taking small pockets of time wherever he can in the mountains and on the hills.
He did it into Sestola on stage 4, and again in Ascoli Piceno on stage 6 and, most dramatically, on the gravel summit finish of Campo Felice on Saturday – where he also romped into the maglia rosa. However, Bernal has been clawing back seconds lost in the opening time trial and his lead is just 14 seconds on second placed Remco Evenepoel, and just over a minute separates the top 10.
Bernal wants more time, but he may have to dial it back so that he doesn’t explode before Milan.
“Until now I have fought every second, but from now on everything depends on my legs, and also on the situation in that I find myself in the general classification,” Bernal said in a rest day press conference. “For now, I have to take an extra bonus seconds on the better time trialists, but I will not be able to attack every day.
“I will choose key stages in which I will go for it fully. It will be a tactical game, and that applies not only to me, but to other riders who will also have to take seconds. I can’t go crazy on every stage, but I do have to make sure I have a wide margin for the final time trial in Milan on the last day.”
Con grinta y berraquera fino alla fine 🔥 pic.twitter.com/dmE0KUK7ll
— Egan Arley Bernal (@Eganbernal) May 13, 2021
How much time would make for a comfortable gap for the Colombian in Milan?
“I should have a minute or a minute and a half on Remco for that time trial, in an ideal world. If the rider behind me is another climber, then the difference could be smaller,” he said.
Impressed by Evenepoel
Across the first week, Bernal and Evenepoel have emerged as the main protagonists in the overall classification – though the Colombian is not counting anyone out as a rival. It culminated in a fascinating contest for bonus seconds at the intermediate sprint on stage 10, where Evenepoel clawed back a solitary second on Bernal.
The Giro d’Italia is Evenepoel’s debut grand tour and it arrives after a lengthy recovery from a horrific crash at Il Lombardia last year.
Bernal has bettered Evenepoel on most of the road stages so far, but only just and he has been suitably impressed by the 21-year-old Belgian.
“I have to admit that I am surprised by Remco Evenepoel’s form. I think he has surprised us all,” said Bernal. “The fact that he has reached this level without racing for eight months means he has prepared very well.
“Of course, he’s got a lot of class, otherwise he wouldn’t be able to do what he has done. You really notice that he wants to win the Giro and that is good for cycling.”
After this first rest day, the Giro d’Italia will resume with the much-talked-about gravel stage to Montalcino. It will likely be a tense day for the overall classification with a puncture or a slip on the gravel enough to throw an unwanted wrench into a rider’s plans.
Bernal became well acquainted with the strade bianche of Tuscany when he finished third in the Strade Bianche race earlier this year. It could give him a small advantage over some of his competitors, but he expects the Giro d’Italia stage to be ridden differently from the one-day race.
“There are many differences between Strade and tomorrow’s stage,” he said. “The Strade Bianche is a one-day race for which the riders have specifically prepared themselves, and in which the real classics specialists face each other. Everything stands or falls with that one day. With a flat tire or crash, you will lose the Strade Bianche, but you will not lose your Giro tomorrow.
“You can lose everything you worked hard for in the past 10 days. The most important thing will be to be properly positioned, and I’ll be happy if I don’t lose seconds.”