Egan Bernal – A True Champion
By Tom Ballard – 8 May 2021
In clinching victory in the 2021 Giro d’Italia, Egan Bernal proved he’s more than just talent – he's a true Grand Tour champion. His ride to the Maglia Rosa in Milan had its ups and downs, but the Colombian star showed his class from start to finish.
The first sign of Bernal's stellar form was on Stage 4, where he attacked the final climb along with a handful of big names. Next up, on Stage 6, the Colombian’s relentless attacks in the final 2km were rewarded by distancing a selection of his challengers and bonus seconds on the line, putting him third on GC.
Then came the real marker of Bernal’s Maglia Rosa ambitions. On Stage 9, the 2019 Tour winner put in a huge dig over the last 500m up the steep gravel at Campo Felice, his Sidi Sixty shoes turning inexorably towards victory. Netting the Pink Jersey and a 15-second lead, it was, quite remarkably, Bernal’s first ever Grand Tour stage win.
On Stage 11, Giro organisers gave us Strada Bianche reinterpreted as a Grand Tour stage, with 35km of white gravel roads in the final 70km. Having swapped his Aero Race jersey for the leader’s Maglia Rosa, Bernal came out of the rest day well to boss proceedings in the GC group. Once the unsurfaced sections were behind him, the young star went on the offensive put time into all his rivals over the final cat-3 climb back on the tarmac.
After a couple of stages in defence mode, the GC battle was back on for Stage 14, which pitted the riders against the mighty Zoncolan. In the final kilometre of the monstrous 14km climb Bernal matched an attack from Simon Yates, the pair riding clear of the other leaders. Bernal soon proved he wouldn’t be outdone, sprinting away over a steep section to increase the advantage to all his competitors – now with a lead of 1:33.
Stage 16 was meant to be the Giro’s queen stage but had to be modified due to wet, snowy conditions. Protected by Castelli Gabbas, Perfettos and Idro Pro jackets, the Grenadiers rode hard to the Passo Giau. Halfway up the ascent, Bernal attacked and 2km later, had shelled any attempted followers. Taking the stage victory in pink, Bernal finished the day with 2:24 in hand.
After that big day in the mountains came the first chink in Bernal’s armour as he suffered on the Giro’s first ever ascent of the Sega di Ala. At 3km to go, Yates went up the road and Bernal cracked, suddenly unable to respond. It looked like a classic case of hitting the wall but with teammate Dani Martinez urging him on, Bernal rode like the champion he is to limit his losses and retain the jersey – 2:21 ahead of Damiano Caruso and 3:23 ahead of Yates.
After a lazy day in the saddle on Stage 18 – just 231km – it was back to the GC battle on Stage 19 culminating in the climb of Alpe di Mera. With 6.4km to go, Yates attacked, Caruso close behind. Bernal stayed composed, riding a strong race to overtake Caruso and lose a manageable 28 seconds to Yates.
On Stage 20, it was Caruso’s turn to attack, an effort the Italian eventually turned into a slim Stage victory. However, Bernal once again kept his cool, trusting in his team and his own strength to retain a strong lead on the GC and gain seconds on Yates.
All that set the stage for the final 30.3km time trial in Milan. Bernal had a buffer of 1:59 to Caruso and 3:23 to Yates. Equipped with a Castelli speed suit fit for the Maglia Rosa, Bernal was last of the starting ramp. It was a measured effort from the Colombian, keeping 1:29 of his lead to Caruso and putting more distance to Yates.
With Milan Cathedral providing a suitably dramatic backdrop in the famous Piazza del Duomo, Bernal, resplendent in pink, raised the ‘never ending trophy’ take his first Giro victory, second Grand Tour win and cement himself as one of the current generation’s greatest champions.
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