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Giro d'Italia

Giro d’Italia: Five storylines to be stoked for in the final phase of the race

From Peter Sagan's pain-train to a Remco Evenepoel renaissance – here's why the final week of the Giro will pack a punch.

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Egan Bernal may have a vice-grip on the pink jersey at this Giro d’Italia, but the race is far from over.

The highest of high mountains are on the horizon, Peter Sagan is searching for more stages, and who knows, Remco Evenepoel may not be done just yet.

Here are the storylines to be stoked for in the final phase of the race:

Heroics in the high mountains

Egan Bernal Giro
The bunch against Bernal? Could be.

Heading into stage 13 on Friday, Egan Bernal boasts a 45-second lead over his closest GC rival, and the Giro hasn’t even hit the hard stuff yet.

With a series of high mountains on tap for the final week of the race, the Ineos Grenadiers captain has his high altitude playground ahead of him and sees climbing sensation Dani Martínez at his side.

Is the pink jersey Bernal’s to lose? Maybe, but he’s not going to have it easy.

Also read: Egan Bernal delivers warning with gravel stage showing

Aleksandr Vlasov, Damiano Caruso, Hugh Carthy, Simon Yates, and Emanuel Buchmann are all clinging on for a slot on the classification and are all under two minutes back. With this fivesome not quite out of contention, Ineos Grenadiers will have to bat away the attentions of a collective of climbing threats in the mountains to come.

The likes of Yates and Buchmann, two of the Giro’s most gifted mountain goats, will have fresh steel in their eyes after profiting on the unpaved roads into Montalcino on Wednesday, and will see the interminable climbs through the next week as their final launchpad.

Yates and Co. may not have the firepower to pull off an 80km solo akin to Chris Froome’s epic exploits in the Alps in 2018, but they’re going to have to give something a go or their Giro will ride away from them.

And away from the classification crunch, those whose GC ambitions have wilted — look no further than Vincenzo Nibali, Dan Martin, or George Bennett — will be looking to scoop a stage to salvage something from a race turned sour. Both Nibali and Bennett have been busy in the last few days, and the two national heroes won’t be easing off until the race hits Milano.

Whether riders are looking to unseat Bernal, the battle for a spot on the podium, or punch their names into this Giro’s report card, it’s next week or never. Expect some heroics in the high mountains.

A Remco renaissance?

MONTALCINO, ITALY - MAY 19: Romain Bardet of France and Team DSM, Remco Evenepoel of Belgium and Team Deceuninck - Quick-Step white best young jersey & Joao Almeida of Portugal and Team Deceuninck - Quick-Step at arrival during the 104th Giro d'Italia 2021, Stage 12 a 162km stage from Perugia to Montalcino 554m / @girodiitalia / #UCIworldtour / #Giro / on May 19, 2021 in Montalcino, Italy. (Photo by Stuart Franklin/Getty Images,)
Whether he bounces back for a GC bid or pivots to hunting for stages, there’s more to come from Evenepoel. Photo: Stuart Franklin/Getty Images

What will Remco Evenepoel do in the final week?

After his two-minute time loss on the gravel roads Wednesday, Evenepoel rallied on the rain-soaked 12th stage Thursday to cross the line with the group of favorites.

Evenepoel is 2:22 down on Bernal, and so classification hopefuls aren’t going to give him the rope to go hunting for stages just yet, and he has indicated he will continue to “fight for every meter” in the hopes of hitting a top GC slot before next weekend. Even clawing 15 or 20 seconds back on the likes of Yates and Carthy would put Evenepoel well within the range of the podium given he’s guaranteed to take chunks of time in the closing TT.

The snoozy sprint stage Friday should afford Evenepoel an extra day to purge the memories of Wednesday’s wobble, and come the weekend, the super-talent could be back to his best and pushing for a slot in the top-3.

But if Evenepoel’s implosion on the strade bianche was the sign of things to come and he slides further off the pace on GC, you can bet your bottom dollar he’ll be battling Filippo Ganna and Tobias Foss for the Milano time trial nonetheless.

Either way, there’s more to come from Evenepoel in the next 10 days.

Peter Sagan and the Bora-Hansgrohe pain train

Peter Sagan, Bora Hansgrohe
Peter Sagan and Co. crushed stage 10, and will be looking to do it again in the final sprint stages. Photo: Stuart Franklin/Getty Images

There are not many opportunities left for sprinters, and not many sprinters left to sprint. But Peter Sagan is still at the Giro, and if his stage 10 victory was anything to go by, the Slovak and his Bora-Hansgrohe crew look intent to rip the race apart.

Also read: Sagan learning to win in new ways at the Giro

Sagan’s stage 10 win earlier this week came after Bora-Hansgrohe put the boot into the whole peloton, dropping a swathe of the sprinters over the day’s early climbs.

The pan-flat stage 13 on Friday is the only nailed-on fast finish remaining in this year’s race, while the hillier 15th and 18th stages have got Sagan written all over them. So unless Sagan’s team is pulling all its resources into a GC bid for Emanuel Buchmann, that should mean we see some more Bora bulldozing tactics in the final week.

Sagan is currently leading the points jersey competition by some margin over nearest rivals Fernando Gaviria and Davide Cimolai, and has stated that now he’s in the maglia ciclamino, he’s hoping to take it all the way to Milano.

With Caleb Ewan and Tim Merlier both now out of the Giro, Sagan has lost two of his fastest foes. But in a one-on-one drag-strip sprint, the likes of Gaviria, Elia Viviani, Giacomo Nizzolo likely have the upper hand. And that makes Sagan’s sprinter-eliminating pain-train all the more important in his bid to win pull on the purple in 10 days’ time.

And if the tricky hills of stages 15 and 18 totally torpedo a final bunch kick, Sagan is still likely to be bringing spectacle to the Giro’s final week.

Who doesn’t remember Sagan’s gutsy breakaway win on stage 10 of the Giro last year? The Slovak ace may not be the rider he was five years ago, but he’s still one of the most explosive and exciting racers in the bunch and stages 15 and 18 offer the terrain where Sagan can really steal the show.

Here’s hoping Sagan doesn’t pull out of the race early, because the Giro has a lot more to offer him in the next week.

The Zoncolan

Zoncolan Giro
There won’t be the same size crowds on the Zoncolan this weekend, but there will still be a spectacle. Photo: LUK BENIES/AFP via Getty Images

It’s big, it’s bad, and it’s coming their way. Monte Zoncolan is the most feared summit in pro cycling, and the Giro heads there for a mountaintop finish Saturday.

Although stage 14 won’t be finishing on the most savage side of the infamous climb, the ascent from Sutrio being used by the race Saturday is no weekend café ride. Averaging nearly nine percent over 14 kilometers and slamming the steepest slopes reaching 27 percent into the final 3km, the climb packs the potential to crush even the strongest of climbers.

Also read: Zoncolan a must-watch at the Giro d’Italia

The Zoncolan summit is being touted as one of the most important climbs of the race, and many GC riders have suggested that it’s there that the haves will be separated from the have-nots.

Although super-steep ascents don’t guarantee equally fearful time gaps, the Zoncolan could put a big dent into anyone on an off-day, and the top GC contenders will be eyeing the ascent with trepidation.

Whether the margins are big or small Saturday, the drama and spectacle of riders wrestling bikes up the most unbelievable of gradients certainly will be. The Zoncolan won’t disappoint. Bring snacks.

To-be-confirmed craziness

Riders protested ahead of a rainsoaked 258km stage in 2020. Photo: Stuart Franklin/Getty Images

GC guys crashing into snowbanks.

Riders protesting just hours before a stage.

Confusion over “neutralized” descents.

The Giro isn’t the Giro without a moment of madness, and so far, this year’s race has been relatively run-of-the-mill. Could Vincenzo Nibali throw a hail mary in the high mountains? Will a goat get in the way of Simon Yates on the Zoncolan? Will there be a dead-tie between Bernal and Evenepoel in the final TT?

Who knows, but it seems inevitable something will happen.