You don’t win the bike race unless you finish the bike race.
It’s an old adage that is being proven so very true at this Giro d’Italia.
From the early exit of Mikel Landa to the late losses of Emanuel Buchmann and Remco Evenepoel, a perilous three weeks have silently shaped this year’s Giro. A race riddled with crashes and abandons has slowly slimmed the startlist of its prime horses, leaving an empty paddock for Egan Bernal to have his way with.
Also read: How Landa’s exit could play out on GC
Perhaps the most formative crash of the race was that of Landa, victim of a high-speed collision in the very first week. The Basque had come out of the early flurry of stages well-poised to live up to his billing as a bone fide podium player, a climbing threat with the legs to follow Bernal and Yates and the verve to attack them.
The race had hardly gotten started and one of its most dynamic racers was flying home.
— Team Bahrain Victorious (@BHRVictorious) May 12, 2021
It was a similar story for Buchmann. The Bora-Hansgrohe captain had attacked his way into sixth on GC with a blazing move in the finale of the strade bianche stage and looked willing to at least try to better an ascendant Bernal. Just four days later, he found himself the victim of the mass pileup on stage 15.
Without Buchmann and Landa, the Giro lost two of the race’s most explosive animators, and Bernal had two fewer threats to fret about. Yates was left to take on the slack, and he took up the challenge this week with his offensive ride to Sega di Ala.
And then there’s Giulio Ciccone, Marc Soler, and Jai Hindley — none were pink jersey contenders, but all are aggressive racers that could have unsettled the favorites and reshaped how the GC played out ahead of them.
Of course, the Giro could have played out in any number of ways had Landa, Buchmann et al still been in the race as of the final Friday.
However, looking at the current situation — a battle for second between Yates and Damiano Caruso and a fight for fourth between a trio behind them — the Giro’s prosecco has lost a little fizz in the wake of an ever-diminishing start sheet.
How abandons could shape the closing stages
It’s not just the high-profile abandons of Landa, Buchmann, and Evenepoel that could prove so pivotal in who pulls on the pink Sunday.
Many names now in danger of being buried in the Giro’s lengthy 37-rider dropout list could also have had a big part to play heading into the final phase of racing.
The hardest-felt losses will be in Team BikeExchange and EF Education-Nippo. The Aussie squad lost top climber Nick Schultz as a consequence of the crash that also ended Evenepoel and Ciccone’s race Wednesday, while EF has had to go without all-around talent Ruben Guerreiro since stage 15’s causeway collision.
Along with Astana-Premier Tech, BikeExchange, and EF Education-Nippo have been the teams most willing to take the race to the dominant force that is Ineos Grenadiers.
Yates is pressing for second on the podium and Carthy is eyeing fourth-place heading into the first of two tough mountain stages Friday. The presence — or absence — of every teammate could count for a lot.
— Nick Schultz (@nick_schultz5) May 27, 2021
Bahrain-Victorious hasn’t even tried to push Ineos in the way others have. Down to five riders and without its pre-race leader Landa, that’s maybe to be expected. Instead, Caruso has solidly if unspectacularly followed, defended, and marked his way into second place. With so few teammates at his side and without the magic sparkle of Bernal, it’s all he can do.
But let’s not forget that Bernal has also lost his top domestique, Sivakov.
The early departure of the Franco-Russian could have been a blessing-in-disguise for this Giro. Would Bernal have been even further ahead with an extra wheel to follow in the mountains — or to cajole him to the line, as was the case with Daniel Martinez on stage 17 this Wednesday?
Who knows, but given Sivakov’s strength in the mountains, it’s a possibility.
The battered elbow that ended his race has also put a close to one of the most fascinating stories of one of this Giro. Evenepoel had been going backward fast in the past few stages and was way out of GC, but he looked to have the guts to fight through to Milano.
The grand tour rookie’s race will stand as an against-all-odds triumph as it is — but if he’d seen all 21 stages it would have gained an added sparkle.
Bernal – fast legs, good fortune, great positioning
Races are always shaped by who doesn’t make it to the finish line.
Last year’s Giro was a perfect example, with none of the pre-race favorites Yates, Geraint Thomas, or Steven Kruijswijk seeing the second half of the action. The bidon that skittled beneath Thomas’ wheel in Sicily last year totally reconfigured the following weeks, and opened the door for the unlikely maglia rosa, Tao Geoghegan Hart.
This year, the Giro could well be shaped by the near-dozen top dogs that won’t see Milano.
Bernal has been imperious, and those left behind him either haven’t had the legs to match or haven’t had the team that could have made the difference.
And the fact that Bernal has made it so far where others have faltered is a testament to his creds as a grand tour great. The young Colombian has – so far – always been in a good position in the bunch, never missed a split, and never been at the back of the pack where the dangers of crashes exponentially increase.
This year more than ever, the Giro has shown that you only win a bike race if you make it to the finish. Bernal will be praying he keeps it rubber side down in the next three stages.
Dreams come true!
Introducing a new British Grand Tour winner.
— INEOS Grenadiers (@INEOSGrenadiers) October 25, 2020