The Zoncolan was every bit as brutal as expected at the Giro d’Italia on Saturday.
Lorenzo Fortunato rode away from his breakaway rivals to land his first-ever pro win while behind him, Egan Bernal blew Simon Yates off his wheel to consolidate his grip on the pink jersey.
Astana Premier Tech had swarmed the race as it looked to move Aleksandr Vlasov to the top of the classification only for the young Russian to buckle on the steep slopes of the Zoncolan, losing time in the GC battle. Remco Evenepoel (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) was another loser from the day, losing contact in the final. He is now well out of contention, nearly four minutes behind Bernal.
Yates was rewarded for the late attack that pulled Bernal out of the GC pack, with the Brit punching from fifth on GC to second, 1:33 back.
For the fans, it was slow-motion bike racing at its finest. But what did the racers have to say about the mighty Monte Zoncolan?
Lorenzo Fortunato: Stage winner
Lorenzo Fortunato took his first professional victory on the biggest stage of them all. The grand tour debutant riding for Alberto Contador’s Eolo Kometa squad looked calm and collected as he bridged over to the lone Jan Tratnik before distancing the Slovenian on the Zoncolan’s toughest gradients.
It is a moment that the 25-year-old Italian, who only turned professional last year, will never forget.
“I’m very happy for today. The team is the best and in the first attacks my teammate [Vincenzo] Albanese stayed with me and with him I was able to go into the breakaway. In the breakaway we went easy for most of the day but when we started the Zoncolan I attacked and stayed behind Tratnik. My legs were very good and I’m very, very happy.”
— Alberto Contador (@albertocontador) May 22, 2021
Egan Bernal: 4th on the stage, GC leader
Egan Bernal smashed his opponents for the umpteenth time during the 2021 Giro d’Italia. Not content with riding away with Simon Yates, he dropped the BikeExchange rider in the last kilometer to gain time on all of those in the GC hunt.
The Colombian now has a sizeable cushion of 1:33 over Yates in second place and doesn’t look like he’s going to show signs of weakness anytime soon.
“I just tried to be calm because I think that I’m in a really good position now. I don’t need to attack on every mountain stage. I just need to be calm and patient. I followed Yates and the I tried to make an acceleration in the final and I think that I did a good race.
“[Astana Premier Tech] was pulling really hard during the stage. I was thinking that Vlasov would be good. 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.
“I think it’s a good gap but I need to have focus. Everything can happen in the Giro. It looks like 1:30 is enough time but you never know. I need to be calm with the gap.”
🇨🇴 @Eganbernal increases his lead!
🇨🇴 @Eganbernal aumenta il suo vantaggio!
— Giro d'Italia (@giroditalia) May 22, 2021
Simon Yates: 6th on the stage, 2nd on GC
Simon Yates lit the touch paper on the Monte Zoncolan, striking out in the final kilometres of the stage. With the steep gradients, it was not so much a stinging attack but a griding ride away from the other GC favorites.
While he was unable to shake Bernal and ultimately lost time to the Colombian, Yates moved up three palces in the overall standings to second. It was the first real big effort from Yates so far in this Giro d’Italia after the British rider has remained fairly quiet.
“It was good. Better legs than I’ve had in the first week so I’m happy with where I’m at.
“Obviously, Bernal is the man to beat and he showed he had great legs again today. 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.”
𝙊𝙣 𝙩𝙝𝙚 𝙖𝙩𝙩𝙖𝙘𝙠… pic.twitter.com/Tf8tJLM93r
— Team BikeExchange (@GreenEDGEteam) May 22, 2021
Aleksandr Vlasov: 16th on the stage, 4th on GC
Astana-Premier Tech was one of the major animators on stage 14, driving the pace on the front of the peloton for most of the day to help set up team leader Aleksandr Vlasov for a tilt at the stage win.
In the end, Vlasov was one of the biggest losers on the Monte Zoncolan, struggling to keep the pace on its mightly slopes. The Russian had gone into the day in second place overall but gave away more than a minute to the pink jersey.
Vlasov: “In the final climb I gave all I had. The team worked perfectly today and I felt good enough, but when Bernal and Yates attacked, I tried to follow them and maybe went a bit too deep at the final kilometer. Still was fighting on until the finish trying to minimize my losses. Well, it was how it was today, I missed something to do better, but I am still up there in the general classification and I will keep on fighting.”
Giuseppe Martinelli, team sport director: “It was worth trying something. You never get anything if you don’t try. Sometimes you can achieve really big, sometimes you lose as it happened today. The team was very strong today and the guys did an amazing job from the start until the finish and we can be proud with the way we spent this day.
“Also our leader Aleksandr Vlasov did his best, he gave maximum on the final climb, but today it just was not enough. However we won’t give up as the race is still open and we are in the mix for the general classification. Many things still can happen and there are many stages, really hard stages ahead. We will change our tactic and will keep on fighting in this Giro.”
💠 @giroditalia @ale_vlasov dug deep on the steep slopes of Monte Zoncolan to limit his time loss as much as possible. He finished 1'12" down on Bernal and moves into fourth overall ahead of the final week of racing. #Giro
📷 @GettySport pic.twitter.com/V6tVX7kYWC
— Astana – Premier Tech (@AstanaPremTech) May 22, 2021
Jan Tratnik: 2nd on the stage
Jan Tratnik was the first member of the breakaway to launch a concerted attack on the slopes of the Monte Zoncolan. He built himself a strong lead but it wasn’t enough to hold off the chasing Lorenzo Fortunato.
Agonizingly for Tratnik, he could see Fortunato up the road for most of the final kilometers but there was nothing he could do about it. The steep gradients were too much for the Bahrain-Victorious rider, who almost fell off his bike as he veered from one side of the road to the other.
“It was just a never-ending story. It was really hard. I saw him the whole time but simply he was the strongest. I would like to have followed but I had no power anymore. What could I do, I gave it my all and I can be really satisfied.”
A super strong ride from @JTratnik
— Team Bahrain Victorious (@BHRVictorious) May 22, 2021