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Giro d'Italia

Remco Evenepoel lights up intermediate sprint at Giro d’Italia

Egan Bernal shrugs off suggestions of a rivalry with the young Belgian, and cautioned that he will 'respect' all his rivals at the Giro's halfway point.

Remco Evenepoel took it straight to pink jersey leader Egan Bernal in a telling moment that revealed the 22-year-old Belgian is going to scrap for every second he can get in this Giro d’Italia.

It’s a cliché, but every second counts in pro racing. It’s a lesson that Evenepoel has clearly taken to heart.

Evenepoel snatched back one tick of the second-hand against his direct rival Monday, and Bernal took one second on everyone else.

“I can only be proud of where I am now,” Evenepoel told journalists before the start of the stage. “When I look back from where I came from, I can only be happy with how this Giro is going.”

Also read: Giro delivers dream Remco-Bernal match-up

Grand tours are decided by fistfuls of seconds, and with the 2021 Giro knotted up with nearly a dozen riders within one minute of the pink jersey nearing the halfway point, an intermediate sprint late in Monday’s transition stage light up the boards.

The intermediate sprint came late in Monday’s 139km stage — the 2021 Giro’s shortest — and Bora-Hansgrohe already drove a hard pace to shell out some of the sprinters to set up Peter Sagan for the eventual win.

With no breakaway up the road, the time bonuses were up for grabs. Ineos Grenadiers and Deceuninck-Quick-Step lined up their GC leaders. Ineos seemed to get the better of Evenepoel, but he jumped across to Bernal’s wheel, and surged toward the tape.

Quick thinking by Jhonatan Narváez meant he won the three-second bonus, with Evenepoel taking back two seconds, and Bernal one.

Evenepoel is looking to claw something back — even if it was just one second — after ceding 10 seconds to Bernal on Sunday’s uphill gravel finale.

Evenepoel blamed poor positioning Sunday coming out of a tunnel ahead of the dirt sector, and said he had to fight through traffic to get back to the front of the race.

“I was too far back on the gravel section,” he said of Sunday’s stage. “When I look at the last part of the climb, I did not do too badly. Bernal got 10 ‘free’ seconds at the finish line, but after 10 days of racing, I can be very happy with where I am right now.”

Evenepoel started Sunday’s stage 5 seconds ahead of Bernal, but after the Colombian dashed to his first grand tour victory, and the winner’s time bonus plus the difference to Evenepoel meant he started Monday’s stage ahead of the Belgian on GC by 15 seconds.

Evenepoel trimmed that to 14 seconds by Monday’s end with his attentive racing.

Also read: Don’t call it a comeback — Egan Bernal surges into pink jersey

Bernal didn’t seem too worried, and shrugged off suggestions of a growing rivalry with Evenepoel.

“I think the Giro won’t be won for a few seconds, but it’s nice to take one second against the others,” Bernal said Monday at the line.

“I didn’t plan to go for the intermediate sprint,” he said. “I just saw the opportunity to go behind Remco. I took only one second, but it didn’t cost me any effort. It was actually a harder stage than we thought it would be this morning.

“[Evenepoel] is not the only guy for the GC. We need to have respect for the other riders,” Bernal said. “There are a lot of riders within one minute on GC, and will need to do our best on the ‘strade bianche’ to not lose time, and go into the mountains with an advantage.”