If today provided the first taste of mountains in the 2021 Giro, then tomorrow is set to deliver a full three-course meal for fans to savour, as the general classification candidates get their first big chance to stake a claim to the maglia rosa.
So far the scuffles for time have been rather muted, and most of the movements in GC have come from riders losing dribs and drabs here and there – rather than any one competitor reaching out and grabbing the race by the horns.
Now, the Giro stands on the verge of all-out war – and Sir Bradley Wiggins has an idea of just who will start the fight tomorrow on the climb to Campo Felice.
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The race’s first true summit finish is tomorrow, with a final altitude of 1,655m above sea and a short sterrato section at the very top of the mountain. As a typical Giro stage it ticks all the boxes, and should suit the talents of Egan Bernal down to the ground. Wiggins has suggested that Ineos will be going hard for the stage win to try and take as much time as they can from the likes of Remco Evenepoel and Simon Yates.
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Ineos have certainly looked strong enough up till now to pull off such a raid. Between Filippo Ganna’s monstrous turns on the front and Dani Martinez’ serving as the perfect attacking foil when they road heads upwards, it has been barely noticeable that the British squad has lost Pavel Sivakov.
But would it be tactically astute for Ineos to throw the kitchen sink at tomorrow? Wiggins certainly thinks so – and he is not the only one.
Wiggins’ comments are similar to the points made earlier today during the Eurosport live broadcast by Sean Kelly, but differ in a couple of key ways. The Irish cycling legend pointed out that having Atilla Valter in the pink jersey right now probably serves the interests of Evenepoel better than it serves Bernal and Ineos. Kelly even went so far as to suggest that, if Bernal could shake out Valter, it would effectively “force” Evenepoel to take pink at a very early stage in the race and that this would ultimately be to the young Belgian’s disadvantage.
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Taking the lead of the overall classification is a great honour, but it comes with a great strain also – not just in terms of the physical demands of controlling the breakaway every day and covering the attacks from rivals, but also in terms of the extra press duties and demands on a rider’s time off the bike.
Often, the life of the man in second place is easier than the one wearing pink – despite what the daily results sheet might say.
This morning before the stage, Evenepoel admitted he felt “tired”. From here until Milan is virgin ground for him, having only competed in week-long stage races during his career-to-date, not to mention having spent eight months sidelined with injury. It’s no wonder he might be feeling a bit of fatigue. Add to that the fact that Deceuninck-QuickStep is comparatively inexperienced when it comes to defending a leader’s jersey, and it begins to look more and more sensible for Ineos to do as Kelly says and pile the pressure on the Belgian squad.
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If Bernal does light things up tomorrow and assuming he is capable of putting some time into Evenepoel – which is a big assumption on its own – then it’s not necessarily the case that he should.
What it comes down to after all, is whether Bernal thinks he can take more time tomorrow against the field at-large (and then defend his advantage for the next fortnight), or whether he is better served by attempting to drop Valter and putting the pressure on Evenepoel’s young shoulders, all the while lying in wait lower down the GC until the brutal third week. Whichever path they choose, tomorrow will be an enthralling day in the Giro d'Italia.
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