Egan Bernal increases lead at 2021 Giro d'Italia as Mauro Schmid wins Stage 11, Remco Evenepoel wilts on gravel
Colombia’s Egan Bernal strengthened his grip on the pink jersey after a mesmerising ride over the Tuscan dirt roads as Swiss youngster Mauro Schmid won Stage 11 to Montalcino from the break. Russia’s Aleksandr Vlasov is up to second place in the general classification after Remco Evenepoel’s day to forget on the gruelling gravel saw the Belgian tyro drop to seventh.
Giro d'Italia : Highlights stage 11 - Bernal tightens grip on pink jersey
When the dust settled on Stage 11 of the Giro d’Italia – and, unlike the muddy mayhem at Montalcino in 2010, there was dust aplenty on the race’s return to the Tuscan strade bianche – Egan Bernal extended his lead after some aggressive riding in the pink jersey on top of an Ineos Grenadiers masterclass from his teammates.
The Colombian proved by a considerable margin the strongest of all the race favourites, kicking clear on the final climb of the Passo del Lume Spento in pursuit of the German Emanuel Buchmann following the fourth and final gravel section.
Coming home in eleventh place, Bernal finished just over three minutes down on the day’s winner – the Swiss 22-year-old Mauro Schmid of Qhubeka-Assos – but extended his lead in the overall standings to 45 seconds on his nearest challenger. That man is not the Belgian debutant Remco Evenepoel but Russia’s Aleksandr Vlasov, who limited his losses to the maglia rosa to 13 seconds while fronting the chasing group of pursuers.
‘He’s the strongest!’ – Schmid wins Stage 11 after brilliant tear-up to line
Definitively dropped on the third of four gravel sections, Evenepoel cut a sorry figure as he came home alongside Deceuninck Quick-Step teammate Joao Almeida just over two minutes down on Bernal. The Belgian drops from second to seventh in the standings, 2’22” down on the summit.
On a day of two races, the stage spoils went to Schmid who outkicked fellow debutant, the Italian Alessandro Covi (UAE Team Emirates) on the leg-sapping ramp to the finish at the end of a 162km stage that included more drama than the entire works of Shakespeare.
"He has won a day that will be remembered for a long, long time," declared Rob Hatch, on commentary for Eurosport. And it was indeed some way to snare a first professional win in his first year in the WorldTour – his previous highest result in a maiden season with the team 34th place in the Faun-Ardeche Classic back in February.
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Belgium's Harm Vanhoucke (Lotto Soudal) battled to third place at 26 seconds after a crash in the final gravel section took the wind from his sails while trying to bridge over to the leaders. The remnants of the day’s initial 11-man break filled out the top 10 in dribs and drabs before Bernal, who capped a fine day’s work by his aggressive Ineos Grenadiers team, powered past Buchmann (Bora-Hansgrohe) to signal his intent in this 104th edition of La Corsa Rosa.
While Evenepoel will be disappointed with his day – and he appeared to have several disagreements with his teammate, Almeida, as well as throw away his radio earpiece in disgust – the Belgian’s debut Grand Tour is still far from over, especially with all the high mountain stages yet to come. But it displayed the first chinks in the armour of a 21-year-old who had not ridden competitively since his crash in last October’s Il Lombardia.
The GC chances of Ireland’s Dan Martin (Israel Start-Up Nation) and Italy’s Davide Formolo (UAE Team Emirates), however, look fairly doomed after both plummeted out of the top 10. After struggling on the dirt roads made famous by the annual Strade Bianche race, the duo finished in a group together over nine minutes down on Schmid to drop over seven minutes down on Bernal.
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Italy’s Damiano Caruso (Bahrain-Victorious) rose to third place in the GC after a solid ride through the dust, while British duo Hugh Carthy (EF Education-Nippo) and Simon Yates (Team BikeExchange) kept up their Steady-Eddie campaigns by riding into the top five after matching – until the very last – Bernal’s accelerations.
Buchmann’s strong day saw the German rise nine places to sixth, while Denmark’s Tobias Foss (Jumbo-Visma) and Colombia’s Dani Martinez (Ineos Grenadiers) also moved into the top 10, with former pink jersey, the Hungarian Attila Valter of Groupama-FDJ, heading in the opposite direction.
Astana Premier-Tech’s Vlasov, Bernal’s nearest challenger at 45 seconds, will take over Evenepoel’s white jersey after battling back from an initial split to show his class in the Tuscan sunshine.
The day’s breakaway was established shortly after the start in the Umbrian town of Perugia and, alongside Schmid, Covi and Vanhoucke, featured Lawrence Naesen (Ag2R-Citroen), Dries De Bondt (Alpecin-Fenix), Enrico Battaglin (Bardiani-CSF), Francesco Gavazzi (Eolo-Kometa), Simon Guglielmi (Groupama-FDJ), Taco van der Hoorn (Intermarche-Wanty-Gobert), Roger Kluge (Lotto Soudal) and Bert-Jan Lindeman (Qhubeka-Assos).
As the race passed Lake Trasimene and entered Tuscany and the picturesque Val d’Orcia, the leaders combined well to ride onto the first of four gravel sections – for a total of 35km of sterrato – with an advantage of over 14 minutes with 70km remaining.
When the peloton joined the gravel party, spectators were treated to the familiar sight of Filippo Ganna putting down the hammer and causing utter devastation in his wake – the Italian powerhouse from Ineos Grenadiers causing early splits which saw the likes of Evenepoel, Yates, Carthy and Vlasov all caught out.
Rain held off despite a few drops falling from threatening storm clouds looming largely on the horizon, and the plumes of dust clouds were evocative of a bygone era of bike races where gravel was not the norm but the only option.
With the exception of Formolo and Martin, all the GC favourites who were distanced by Ineos’ infernal tempo managed to fight back before the second section of gravel around 50km from the finish. When Ganna was dropped on a climb, Ineos were able to call on the likes of Gianni Moscon, Salvatore Puccio, Jhonatan Narvaez and Dani Martinez to put in the groundwork for Bernal, who finished a solid third in his Strade Bianche debut back in March.
Evenepoel looked increasingly nervous on the gravel descents and the elastic finally snapped on the penultimate section following the first ascent of the Passo del Lume Spento. Isolated, the Belgian tyro pedalled squares one minute off the pace before teammate Almeida finally slowed to help pace him to the finish – several disagreements in the Quick-Step camp clear for all to see.
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On the front of the race, Schmid bridged over to Covi and De Bondt before edging clear with the Italian with 10km remaining near the end of the final section of gravel. Behind, after a foray off the front for Jumbo-Visma duo George Bennett and Tobias Foss, both Vlasov and Bernal forced another selection before a select group of a dozen GC riders formed on the second ascent up the other side of the Lume Spento.
Buchmann made an early opportunistic attack while Carthy was unable to benefit from the presence of his EF Education-Nippo teammates Ruben Guerreiro and Alberto Bettiol. Third in last year’s Vuelta, Carthy eventually made a dig – only to see Vlasov kick clear with Bernal on his wheel. The Colombian then looked to go in for the kill by surging clear to join Buchmann shortly after the summit.
By now the two leaders had reached the foot of the climb and were rising up through the narrow streets of Montalcino in the knowledge that one of them would end the day as winner of a Grand Tour stage. It was Covi who launched first on the home straight but Schmid who had more left in the tank.
The clock then ticked up to 3’09” before Bernal crossed the line in eleventh place to cement his status as favourite to win this Giro d’Italia. But with Monte Zoncolan coming in three days, the gaps are not insurmountable and Ineos Grenadiers will have to have their wits about them as they go deeper into the race hoping that their leader’s ongoing back issues are behind him.
The Giro continues on Wednesday with the 212km Stage 12 from Siena to Bagno di Romanga – a rolling affair which will suit a breakaway but also pose potential problems for those feeling the pinch from a dramatic day on the Tuscan dirt roads.
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