Egan Bernal dominates in pink to win wet and mysterious Stage 16 at Giro d'Italia 2021 as Simon Yates cracks
Egan Bernal cemented his status as pink jersey elect with a splendid solo victory in Cortina d’Ampezzo after a huge attack on the Passo Giau – not that fans were able to see it. Owing to the bad weather in the Dolomites much of Monday’s shortened stage in the Dolomites played out mysteriously behind closed doors on a day to forget for Simon Yates and Remco Evenepoel.
Highlights: Bernal 'on another planet' as he charges to Stage 16 glory
A blistering attack that no one saw resulted in Egan Bernal strengthening his already solid grip on the general classification after the Colombian race leader powered clear on the Passo Giau to win a weather-shortened Stage 16 in the Dolomites.
Heavy rain, freezing temperatures and dense fog meant the live television images from the host broadcaster fizzed out moments after the 24-year-old put in his decisive attack on the highest climb of the 2021 Giro.
Bernal rode clear of a group of race favourites a few kilometres from the 2,233m summit of the Passo Giau, skipping past the remaining four escapees from the day’s initial breakaway of 24 riders, before tackling the long descent to Cortina which played out in challenging conditions we could only imagine.
‘On the attack’ – The moment Bernal launched on Passo Giau
By the time Bernal appeared for the fixed cameras in the final kilometre, the Ineos Grenadier leader had held off a late downhill charge from Romain Bardet and Damiano Caruso to secure the stage win – his second of the race.
The classy Colombian took the time to remove his rain jacket – not an easy task on the slippery cobblestone surface – before punching the air to celebrate an emphatic victory. Frenchman Bardet (Team DSM) beat Italian veteran Caruso (Bahrain-Victorious) for second place 27 seconds in arrears.
Caruso, continuing to make good of his opportunity following the early withdrawal of teammate Mikel Landa, rose to second place in the general classification – 2’24” down on Bernal – after Britain’s Simon Yates (Team BikeExchange) struggled in the wet weather, fading to eleventh place on the day and dropping three places to fifth.
Fellow Lancashire rider Hugh Carthy rose to third place at 3’40” after finishing in the wheel of Italy’s Giulio Ciccone (Trek-Segafredo) for fifth on the day, 1’19” behind Bernal.
Bullish ahead of the stage owing to the mountainous profile and wet conditions – to the extend of lamenting the shortening of the test – Carthy put his EF Education-Nippo teammates onto the front of the pink jersey group on the short but testing Colle Santa Maria ahead of the Passo Giau – and they did so to devastating effect.
The gap of the remaining five leaders dropped to below two minutes while numerous riders – including the Belgian tyro Remco Evenepoel (Deceuninck Quick-Step) – were shelled out the back even before the brutal final climb. Tempo-setting from Tejay van Garderen, Alberto Bettiol and Simon Carr did further damage, with both Yates and Russia’s Aleksandr Vlasov (Astan-Premier Tech) slipping off the back.
But after British rider Carr peeled off the front to hand the reins over to Carthy, it wasn’t his compatriot who took the baton, but Bernal, who anticipated Carthy’s move by dancing clear in pursuit of the leaders and a second stage win.
With live images coming and going – predominantly going – Bernal caught and passed escapees Davide Formolo (UAE Team Emirates), Vincenzo Nibali (Trek-Segafredo), Joao Almeida (Deceuninck Quick-Step) and, last of all, Antonio Pedrero (Movistar), before soloing over the summit to take the Cima Coppi ahead of the long descent to Cortina.
The presence of Portugal’s Almeida in the day’s break was perhaps an omen that things would not go well for Evenepoel – and that proved to be the case, with the Belgian finishing more than 24 minutes in arrears, ending any chances of a strong finish (or perhaps any finish) in Milan.
Almeida, fourth in his debut Giro last year, took sixth place in Cortina to rise back into the top 10, albeit a whopping 10 minutes down on the man who all but secured a second Giro victory in six months for Ineos Grenadiers.
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“It’s a great victory,” Bernal, back to his best after a debilitating back injury, said before explaining his decision not to push for more time on the home straight, but remove the item of clothing shielding him from the rain and cold.
If you win with the maglia rosa it’s special so I wanted to show it – it’s not every day you win a stage in the Giro with the maglia rosa. I wanted to show my respect for the jersey. I wanted to do something special and show I am back in the game. The team believed in me during the stage and I just tried to go and do something special.
“It was hard, of course, but when the race is this hard because of the weather, you need to have a hard mentality as well. It was a hard day to suffer and we did it.”
Fears over the weather forced the hand of the race organisers RCS who, following talks with the CPA, the riders’ union, decided to remove the Passo Fedaia and the Passo Pordoi from the itinerary. The decision saw what was the queen stage of the race reduced from 212km to 153km but ensured that the day was ridden competitively and not, perhaps, dogged by the kind of rider protest that saw those controversial go-slows in Stage 19 of the 2020 race.
The decision seemed to be vindicated when a large move established a decent lead over the peloton on the first climb of the day, the Cat.1 ascent of La Crosetta. Italian duo Nibali and Formolo, as well as Almeida and Pedrero, were joined by 20 other riders including Ireland’s Dan Martin (Israel Start-Up Nation), Spain’s Gorka Izagirre (Astana-Premier Tech) and the blue jersey of Geoffrey Bouchard (Ag2R-La Mondiale).
It was the Frenchman Bouchard who went over the top of La Crosetta in pole position to consolidate his lead in the KOM standings – a lead which would look rather precarious a couple of hours later when Bernal took maximum points over the Giau to go within 29 points of the blue jersey.
A split then occurred on the descent with a strong sextet going clear, with Nibali bolstered by Eritrean teammate Amanuel Ghebreigzabhier, and Izagirre also there alongside Almeida, Formolo and the Spaniard Pedrero. With the chasers sinking back towards the Ineos-led peloton, the leaders held an advantage of over five minutes as the rain came down in buckets – putting them in good stead to contest for the stage win.
But the arrival of Carthy’s EF Education-Nippo team on the front of the pack put paid to the hopes of the six leaders, while stringing out the pack and swallowing up Bouchard, Martin and the other group of escapees.
Carthy clearly sensed blood – and EF did do enough to see Bernal lose a few domestiques on the curtain raiser to the final climb, the Colle Santa Maria. Vlasov was distanced on the short descent before Yates started going backwards at the start of the 10km slog to the top of the highest point in this Giro.
Bernal, however, had other ideas – and although the world was not able to see the result of his acceleration in all its glory, the Colombian put one hand on the Trofeo Senza Fine.
After Izagirre had almost come a cropper on the descent, Formolo had ridden clear of what was now a leading quartet but was reeled in by both Almeida and Pedrero by the time the Colombian race leader zipped past ahead of the summit.
‘Well held!’ – Izagirre almost crashes into van in scary near-miss
We can only imagine how things went on the downhill to the finish – and it’s worth noting that Ineos Grenadiers are the only team not employing disc brakes on this Giro – but Bernal held on, despite Frenchman Bardet taking back a reported 45 seconds on his own risk-taking descent to catch Caruso.
Bernal enters Tuesday’s second rest day with a hefty lead over all his rivals but with two more summit finishes – and the final 30km time trial into Milan – still to ride. Wednesday’s 193km Stage 17 features three categorised climbs including the new mountain-top finish at Sega di Ala.
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