Damiano Caruso made a bold long-range move on Saturday’s 20th stage as he looked to tip the race on its head and overturn a 2:29 deficit. The Sicilian’s attack didn’t land him a slot at the top of the classification, but he did score a career-topping stage win and padded his advantage over Simon Yates in the race for second-place.
After Yates had looked so impressive through the previous two climbing tests, he was dropped under the pressure from Bernal and his teammate Daniel Martínez in the Alpe Motta summit finish, finishing sixth on the stage and losing 51 seconds on GC rival Caruso. Yates now looks set for third-place when the Giro wraps up Sunday.
So what were the key players saying Saturday now that the podium positions are all-but decided?
Damiano Caruso (Bahrain-Victorious): Stage-winner, 2nd on GC
Damiano Caruso put a cap on a standout Giro with his stage win Saturday. The Sicilian veteran had started the race as support rider for teammate Mikel Landa only to find himself leading Bahrain-Victorious when his captain crashed out. Caruso had flown beneath the radar to finish up second overall at the start of the stage, making his long-range move Saturday all the more of a surprise.
Caruso escaped with teammate Pello Bilbao in the back half of the stage and put nearly one-minute into Bernal as he looked to turn the race on its head.
The 33-year-old was unable to make the gains required to pounce on the pink jersey, but with his second overall now looking guaranteed and a first-ever grand tour stage win in the books, Saturday was one of the biggest days in Caruso’s long career as a domestique.
“I knew that today, for me, it would be very important to confirm the podium and try to hang on to second-place, but what happened was a stupendous stage. My companions and I rode in great fashion, we made the most of it, and in the final, it was magical.
“I thought about a thousand things in the last meters before the finish line, all my sacrifices, my training, and all the work done by my teammates. We rode in an exemplary way today. Pello Bilbao in particular did an incredible job and he played a fundamental role in this victory. Today I realized a dream. I think I’m the happiest man in the world!
“I also thought that we’re doing this with five riders left in the race. Who knows what we could do with the whole team. We did a classy ride today. 70 percent of this win is for Pello. I never won as a ‘champion,’ but today, yes, I can say I had my day like a champ.”
"I'm the happiest man on this earth"
— Team Bahrain Victorious (@BHRVictorious) May 29, 2021
Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers): 2nd on stage, GC leader
Egan Bernal is just 30km away from his second grand tour victory. Bernal has a 1:59 lead over Damiano Caruso heading into the TT on Sunday and is all set to take his second three-week win after winning the 2019 Tour de France.
Bernal and his team were put under pressure by Bahrain-Victorious through stage 20, but the pink jersey showed no signs of stress.
The Colombian put his team to work to limit Caruso’s gap before following the wheel of superdomestique Daniel Martínez through the final climb. Bernal made his move in the final kilometer and although he didn’t catch Caruso, he did more-than-enough to position his team for its third Giro title in four years.
“I’m very satisfied with the result. We managed the situation well. Finally we have two minutes of an advantage for tomorrow’s time trial. We are in a good position.
“It’s not the best situation to have the second in the GC in front of you on the stage with almost one minute, but I still had three teammates and I tried to use them, and just arrive as fresh as possible in the last climb, and also for tomorrow. We managed well the situation but it was difficult.”
— INEOS Grenadiers (@INEOSGrenadiers) May 29, 2021
Simon Yates (BikeExchange), 6th on stage, 3rd on GC
Many were expecting Simon Yates and his team to light up the race after looking so aggressive through the recent mountain stages.
BikeExchange had controlled the first half of the stage only for DSM to unexpectedly blow the race apart on the long opening climb of the day. Yates held strong in the GC group through to the final, only to lose the wheels when Daniel Matínez pressed the accelerator on the decisive final climb.
The Brit will have to ride the time trial of his life to pull back 1:24 on Caruso on Sunday. However, with Aleksandr Vlasov nearly four minutes back in fourth, Yates is all-but-guaranteed third overall in Milano.
Simon Yates: “We tried to do something again, the boys did a fantastic job again, as always. The plan was to try something on the second to last climb, but we arrived there and I didn’t have the legs, a bit of fatigue from yesterday maybe, a bit of fatigue from three weeks all coming together.
“But as always, I did the best as I could and I’m happy with what I did and we finish off with the TT tomorrow. We’re staying focused, it’s only one more day and then we can celebrate a nice podium in Milan.”
Team sport director Matt White: “We wanted to give Yatesy one more chance at winning a stage, one more chance at moving up the general classification, so we took control of the race and it was all going really good.
“In the end Yatesy just didn’t have the legs on the final climb to go with Martínez and Bernal. It was 100 percent effort from all the boys and we can ask no more.”
Another brutal mountain stage done! Just one more stage to go in Italy. pic.twitter.com/TYP8aN8xVO
— Team BikeExchange (@GreenEDGEteam) May 29, 2021
Romain Bardet (DSM): 4th on stage, 5th on GC
Team DSM lit up the race on the Bernardino climb, splitting the bunch and squeezing the pressure on Ineos Grenadiers. The team continued pressing through the long descent that followed, sending Romain Bardet and two teammates clear in the split that also included stage-winner Damiano Caruso.
The team’s aggression paid off as Bardet went into the final climb shoulder-to-shoulder with Caruso. However, the Frenchman faded as Caruso held his tempo and finished fourth on the stage.
Although Bardet didn’t secure the stage win he was looking for, he moves up one position to fifth on GC. Bardet is now 41 seconds down on fourth-place Aleksandr Vlasov and just eight seconds ahead of Daniel Martínez heading into the final TT.
Romain Bardet: “I think today we can all be proud with the way we rode. Everyone committed 100 percent to the plan we made, and we gave it our best to the line. I’m really pleased by the dedication from everyone in the team.”
DSM coach Matt Winston: “I think we can be really proud of the way we raced today. We made a plan before the stage and we really committed to the plan to give Romain the best opportunity to move up on GC. I think you can see the commitment there in the way the guys rode. It almost came off, not quite, but almost. I think we can reflect on a good team performance and we also moved up to fifth on GC which was also the goal at the start of the day.”
— Team DSM (@TeamDSM) May 29, 2021