Egan Bernal's run into pink was built on the backs of Filippo Ganna and Daniel Martinez at Giro d'Italia
Egan Bernal takes an almost-unassailable lead into the final time trial on Sunday and barring accident will claim the 2021 maglia rosa, his first victory in the Giro. While he has ridden a superb race, he has two key riders to thank for helping him on the way to almost-certain-victory: Filippo Ganna and Daniel Martinez.
Egan Bernal stands on the verge of his first Giro d’Italia title, and make no mistake he has ridden every metre of the course so far. Nobody can take the achievement away from him personally, but the win has been built on the performances of a team – and two members of that team in particular.
Today we saw Dani Martinez driving to the line at Alpe Motta, helping to peg back Damiano Caruso and prevent the Italian from becoming a serious threat to Bernal’s overall lead.
Martinez buried himself to keep the Bahrain Victorious rider in contact, and while the Colombian pairing ran out of road to catch Caruso and bag a stage win, they did more than enough to protect the maglia rosa. Bernal goes into Sunday's time trial 1’59” to the good.
Stage 20 highlights: Caruso scoops first Grand Tour win, Bernal ends Yates resistance
It was not the first time this week we have seen Martinez fulfil this role, with perhaps the defining photograph of the entire cycling season so far emerging on Wednesday’s Stage 17 to Sega di Ala.
It was the day of Bernal’s greatest weakness, exploited by the rampaging Simon Yates, with the 2019 Tour de France champion appearing to be on the brink of total implosion as the Lancastrian scurried off up the road.
Instead Martinez – through force of will and wild gesture – guided Bernal to the summit. Bernal lost time to Yates, yes, but not as much as he could have without mountain climber-cum-motivational coach, Martinez.
Dani Martinez wills on Egan Bernal
Image credit: Getty Images
If Martinez has been Bernal’s man for the mountains, then Filippo Ganna has been the counterpoint, the strong defensive shield that has allowed Bernal to navigate the first half of the race without dropping time. The platform from which Bernal launched the attack that propelled him into pink in the first place on Stage 9.
While Remco Evenepoel’s Giro began to come unstuck on Stage 11, ‘the strade bianche stage’, up the road Ganna was piloting Bernal safely through the sectors of white gravel. Well, mostly safely, with a couple of moments where Ganna’s youthful exuberance almost led them off the edge of the course.
When the wind blew in the flat lands, it was always Ganna to the fore – trying to exploit the conditions for maximum gain. Ineos even managed to execute a rarely-seen uphill echelon at one point, through the forcing of their Italian TT world champion. Ganna has been there whenever he has been needed, controlling breaks, fetching bottles – a teammate par excellence.
Giro d'Italia : Highlights stage 11 - Bernal tightens grip on pink jersey
By contrast, Yates has had to do a lot of things himself, particularly when the race has got to its sharpest points – and on Saturday, he simply didn’t have the gas to take on the terrible twosome of Martinez and Bernal. A shot of Mikel Nieve – Yates’ strongest on-paper climbing lieutenant – going backwards out of a bunch behind the maglia rosa group pretty much summed it up.
Doubtless, Yates, Dan Martin, Aleksandr Vlasov and even João Almeida must have sent the odd envious look in the Ineos bus’s direction these past three weeks – and the idea that Ineos has more to invest in its squads is nothing new, really.
Sunday, of course, comes the race of truth. The one part of Grand Tour racing where a rider simply cannot hide behind a strong team. If there is a weakness in Bernal, if his back is going to let him down, it will be then. By the same token, it's a chance for Bernal to prove that this is his victory, as much as it is Ineos’.
- - -
You can watch the Giro d'Italia live and ad-free on the Eurosport app and Eurosport.co.uk. Download the Eurosport app for iOS and Android now. You can also watch the most comprehensive live & ad-free racing on GCN+. Go deeper and get interactive with live polls & quizzes, plus rider profiles, race updates, results & more – plus stream exclusive cycling documentaries. Watch it all with GCN+ on any device.