Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers) showed the first signs of weakness as he cracked with three kilometres remaining on Stage 17 at the Giro d’Italia.
The runaway maglia rosa looked set to tick off another day on his procession to victory, but came into trouble as Joao Almeida (Deceuninck–QuickStep) and Simon Yates (Team BikeExchange) drove the pace on the final Cat. 1 climb to Sega di Ala.
Bernal’s lieutenant Daniel Martinez dropped back to help the Colombian, but the 2019 Tour de France champion was swimming at this point, barely able to crank his pedals. While he limited his losses, finishing 53 second down on rival Yates, it will inject new life into a general classification battle that desperately needed a spark.
Evenepoel: I need to improve to challenge Pogacar, Roglic, Bernal
- Martin wins Stage 17 as Bernal shows first signs of weakness
- ‘Oh no’ – Evenepoel flung onto barriers in big crash, Ciccone also down
- Froome returning for Criterium du Dauphine and Tour 'if all goes well'
‘A little smile on his face!’ – Yates closes on Bernal in GC as Martin wins Stage 17
He wasn’t the only one to suffer. Hugh Carthy (EF Education–Nippo) bucketed time after looking so strong on Monday’s weather-affected trip to the Dolomites, while Damiano Caruso (Bahrain Victorious) only finished three seconds ahead of Bernal as his grip on second in the overall standings became a little less firm.
Bernal still leads the GC from Caruso by 2:21, with Yates 3:23 back in third. Aleksandr Vlasov (Astana Pro) and Carthy are fourth and fifth respectively, 6:03 and 6:09 adrift.
“If we were disappointed at the end of week two, week three started with a bang because the maglia rosa has shown its first sign of weakness,” yelled Rob Hatch on Eurosport commentary.
“Egan Bernal gapped, we wondered whether it was possible. He said yesterday that he still had his back injury. Nobody believed him. But Simon Yates has put time into Egan Bernal.
And that is going to wake everybody up from their afternoon siesta!
Dan Martin (Israel Start-up Nation) soloed to victory, with Almeida distancing Yates to come home 13 seconds back. But it was the Briton who was the day’s big winner, soaring back into contention – even if his chances still remain faint – with an overdue statement performance.
“The Giro d’Italia is alive and kicking,” added Hatch.
“The first Bernal crack gives us plenty to talk about for days to come – and he can’t even hold his teammate’s wheel. Egan Bernal, well that is a turn up for the books.”
‘Hopefully forecast stays the same’ – Yates praying for sun to overhaul Bernal
'You can really suffer in the final days' - Kelly
Bernal has looked unflappable to this point, claiming a memorable solo win on Stage 16 in the Dolomites that appeared to put the GC beyond doubt.
But Yates, who blew up spectacularly at the 2018 edition to hand Chris Froome the title, will be boosted by this performance and still has two more trips to the mountains – on Friday and Saturday – to wrestle back more time.
“It [was] looking good but you just never know how it can affect Bernal," said Eurosport expert Sean Kelly, winner of 21 Grand Tour stages.
"You can really suffer in the final days and when you start to show cracks that is a real concern. It’s always one which the other teams zone in on and see where they can really put you under pressure.
Is it just an off day for Bernal or is it that he is starting the tire at the end which we have seen many times in a three-week race? If you start off too good in a race, it’s always a concern whether you can hold it for three weeks.
The peloton enjoy a relatively flat stage on Thursday and concludes with a flat time trial into Milan on Sunday.
Bernal exit rumours not true and is happy at Ineos - agent
Vuelta a España
‘The downside of having too much money’ – Wiggins on Ineos' muddled Vuelta strategy