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Go big or go home.
It was a daring move that brought plenty of risk, but it also promised a big reward if he could pull it off. If the long-range attack came as a surprise, it shouldn’t have, as Bernal had promised as much following Tuesday’s stage.
A two-time grand tour winner, Bernal isn’t overly interested in trailing the group of favorites in and riding home for a solid top-10 result, so he has little to lose in going for broke. As his legs and his form seem to be improving — a bit too late to make any difference — Bernal wanted to make the most of them and see what he could do on this most brutal of stages.
“I was just really trying to enjoy my day, trying to enjoy riding my bike, that’s all,” Bernal said after the stage.
“Today, in the morning we had a plan on the bus, but in my mind, I was thinking just to enjoy. I think I have been suffering a lot during this Vuelta, and finally, I had legs and I was just thinking to make the race hard and I did. Then, I was just enjoying every kilometer, even if it was hard.”
At times, Bernal looked like the effortlessly attacking rider he was on his race-winning debut at the Giro d’Italia earlier this year, putting his rivals to the sword as and when he wanted. He suddenly looked human again when Roglič dropped him like a stone on the final climb to Lagos de Covadonga.
Whether it is the difficult summer he had after contracting COVID-19 immediately after his Giro d’Italia win, his back injury playing up, or the challenges of competing in two grand tours in a season — something he has never done before — Bernal has not been at his best throughout this Vuelta.
The time to assess precisely what has gone wrong, for both Bernal and the wider Ineos team, will be after the race. For now, why not have a bit of fun and see what comes of it?
Since his travails in 2020, which saw him mentally battered by the back problem that put him out of his Tour de France defense, Bernal has talked a lot about enjoyment and happiness. As he worked towards making his comeback this year, he first wanted to find the joy in racing before worrying so much about the final product.
The Colombian has gone into the final week of the Vuelta a España with a similar mindset after losing close to four minutes on the red jersey contest in the opening two weeks.
With his long-range attack, Bernal shook off any pressure he might be feeling about underperforming and lit the race up and we should applaud him for trying something. All too often, riders in that position can get too caught up by the idea of not losing position or that it scares them out of taking a risk.
Bernal must have sighed in dismay as he saw Roglič, the de facto race leader, sidle up beside him when he launched his attack. However, the Slovenian didn’t shirk any of his responsibilities and may have helped Bernal’s move last longer than it might have on its own.
“I was happy to be part of this winning move, for him, because he was brave,” Bernal said of Roglič. “I had nothing to lose, and he was basically the leader of the race, and he went with me, and he was turning in the flat. He was the strongest today and I’m happy for him.”
After it was all said and done, Bernal has ended Wednesday almost in the same place as he began it —moving up one place following the demise of Odd Eiking — with a little more gap between himself and red.
With two road stages and a time trial remaining, the chance that Bernal could do what his former teammate Chris Froome did and snatch victory with a raid through the mountains looks all but impossible.
All the more reason to have another go if he has the legs.
What does he have to lose?