Giro d'Italia 2021 - Opinion: The winners and losers after a dramatic Stage 17 that opened up the GC a little
Egan Bernal’s first wobble in pink, Dan Martin’s maiden Giro win and grand slam, Joao Almeida’s comeback, Remco Evenepoel’s ghastly collision with the guardrail… it all certainly happened in Stage 17 of the Giro d’Italia. Felix Lowe runs through the biggest winners and losers on a topsy-turvy day in La Corsa Rosa with the winners and losers.
Simon Yates et Egan Bernal sur la 17e étape du Giro
Some way to complete the grand slam. Irish veteran Martin looked to be chomping at the bit on the Passo di San Valentino, the first of two beautiful Cat.1 slogs that decided the outcome of the stage. And with Team BikeExchange leading the chase behind, who can blame him?
Any concerns that Martin was expending too much energy by pulling too frequently on the front of the break disappeared when the Israel Start-Up Nation man climbed successfully to whittle things down to a select quartet, which rose to six ahead of the final climb.
Stage 17 Highlights: Bumper day as Bernal cracks, Yates closes, Martin wins
While it looked like he went rather early on the slog to Sega di Ala with 10km remaining, Martin really had no other choice. When Alexsandr Vlasov blew up and Astana stopped riding tempo, the gap grew out to 1’30” for Martin and played into his hands. But he still had to dig deep once the fireworks were set off behind and some of the chasers also sniffed a potential win.
For the first time in this race, the Colombian actually lost time to one of his fellow GC rivals. So far, Bernal has ridden a flawless Giro – but he showed his first signs of weakness on the 17% ramp of Sega di Ala after a succession of attacks from Simon Yates and Joao Almeida finally had their desired effect.
With the help of compatriot Dani Martinez, Bernal battled to limit his loses – but his pedalling squares in the heat and on a steep climb will have his rivals sniffing blood ahead of the next two mountain stages. If there’s any chance that Bernal is going to be laid low by the back injury which has plagued him since the start of last season, then it could spark a frenzy.
'Yates is the one they’ve got to watch' - Is Bernal in trouble?
So dominant at Campo Felice, on the Tuscan gravel, and on Monte Zoncolan and the Passo Giau, Bernal suddenly looked ordinary – and more like the struggling rider of the 2020 Tour than the winner 12 months earlier.
Question marks will also be raised about the complacency of Ineos Grenadiers: did they really need to let local rider Gianni Moscon into the breakaway in search of a sentimental win when he may have been better served supporting his isolated leader? Thankfully, Martinez was on call to put in an almighty shift and, in turn, rise to seventh on GC.
Winner – Simon Yates
The British rider knows a thing or two about throwing away a commanding lead while in pink – and his 57-second gain on Bernal on Wednesday will reinvigorate not just his push for the podium but for the maglia rosa, too.
What’s more, the way Yates delivered on all the hard work put in by his BikeExchange teammates will see them more prepared to repeat that performance on Friday and Saturday’s key stages in the Alps. Back up to third place, Yates now trails Bernal by 3’23”. He also has the luxury of a huge cushion behind.
‘A little smile on his face!’ – Yates closes on Bernal in GC as Martin wins Stage 17
Yates may not win this Giro, but things are shaping up nicely for the 28-year-old from Bury. Italian veteran Damiano Caruso still has just over a minute on the Briton, yet he lacks the kind of explosiveness displayed by a Yates in the ascendency and hitting his favoured terrain.
Loser – Hugh Carthy
If Carthy wanted Monday’s queen stage to remain the full 212km despite the rain, then he’d have wished the race jury had wiped off the final climb on Wednesday’s stage. Already down to just one EF Education-Nippo teammate ahead of the Sega di Ala, Carthy felt the pinch once the attacks came in and had to be nursed to the line by Alberto Bettiol almost four minutes down on Martin.
The slump in the heat and on the same kind of gradient as his famous Angliru win six months ago was confounding. It saw Carthy trade places with Yates once again, dropping to fifth place and now, like Aleksandr Vlasov, over six minutes down, all but ending, perhaps, his hopes of a podium finish in Milan.
Winner – Joao Almeida
Written off and reduced to a support role for teammate Remco Evenepoel in the opening week after conceding time on the uphill finish at Sestola, Almeida has gotten stronger and stronger as this race has progressed – mirroring the steep decline of the Belgian.
Expectations were always going to be high for the man who spent two weeks in pink last year – and it can’t have helped to see his position as leader undermined by a Grand Tour debutant who hadn’t raced since before Almeida himself had taken fourth place in the 2020 Giro.
After a solid ride to Cortina d’Ampezzo, it was Almeida who put in the series of attacks which made the difference on Sega di Ala – combining with Yates to put Bernal into the red for the first time in this race. This followed some superb teeing up by Quick-Step duo Pieter Serry and James Knox, who dropped back from the break to help their Portuguese teammate.
Had the climb been a few hundred metres longer, Almeida could well have taken the win. And having dropped to 42nd place after Stage 4, Almeida is now up to eighth place and looking to be Deceuninck’s only bet for success in Italy.
Loser – Remco Evenepoel
Dropped early on the Passo di San Valentino, it looked like the 21-year-old was going to keep his powder dry for one of the remaining days in the mountains. But then something strange happened: Evenepoel surged up the mountain from nowhere, catching the pack just ahead of the summit and giving Deceuninck yet another option for the finale besides Almeida and their two men up the road – Serry and Knox.
But then rotten luck stopped Evenepoel in his tracks. A mini pile-up on a sweeping right-hand bend on the descent seemingly caused him to panic, and Evenepoel locked up and went into the barriers, dragging his torso horribly along the top of the guardrail. While no where as bad, the incident had clear echoes of his horrific fall over the barriers in Il Lombardia last October.
‘Oh no’ – Evenepoel flung onto barriers in big crash, Ciccone also down
Given everything he has been through, it would have been no surprise to see the Belgian call it a day then and there. But after being checked out by the race doctor, Evenepoel got back on his bike. He finished in the gruppetto some 36 minutes down – further skewering his GC position.
What had started as a very solid maiden appearance in a Grand Tour has turned into something of a nightmare for the rider perpetually billed as the new Eddy Merckx. Seeing him go over the guardrail was sickening for every cycling fan.
Winner – Geoffrey Bouchard
Like Martin, Bouchard was very active at the start of the break, and he clearly wanted to get into the day’s break – for obvious reasons. That he did so after a frenetic fight that lasted well over an hour is a credit to the Frenchman’s tenacity and strength and tactical nous. Denied a full quota of points over the first summit by Dries De Bondt, Bouchard was dropped halfway up the second climb.
Many riders would have folded but Ag2R-Citroen’s Bouchard pushed on, fought back, and rejoined the leading trio before the summit, which he led over to pocket the 40 KOM points which put him 71 points clear of Egan Bernal at the top of the blue jersey standings.
It’s not yet enough to secure him the jersey – but it’s getting there. Get in the break in Stage 19 and he could well ensure that he does in his maiden Giro what he managed to do in his maiden Vuelta two years ago: become a worthy King of the Mountains.
Loser – Giulio Ciccone
No sooner had Trek-Segafredo put their plan in motion by bringing Ciccone to the front alongside Vincenzo Nibali and Amanuel Ghebreigzabhier ahead of the final descent had it all gone pear shaped. Ciccone got a flat tyre and all three swung to the side of the road – just when they should have been swinging down the mountain.
Once they rejoined the back of the main pack, disaster struck – a crash bringing all three down. Ciccone was least badly struck, and the first back on his bike. But he needed a second bike changed once down in the valley (causing a series of prangs in the car convoy) and then, understandably, was tailed off near the start of Sega di Ala.
Ultimately, on a day which suited his strengths, Ciccone dropped from sixth to tenth on GC – plus got a bit bashed up in doing so. Bad day at the office.
Winner – Egan Bernal?
Let’s keep a little sense of perspective on Bernal “cracking” on the final climb – after all, on the one day he showed some weakness, he still managed to extend his lead over all his rivals except Caruso (who took back three seconds) and Yates. The latter is still well over three minutes down, and Bernal is still very much in control of this race.
"Today was a tough day for me, for sure," he said. "The last kilometres were really steep, and I tried to follow Yates, but today he was stronger than me. Today was perfect for him. I tried to go after him, but I made a mistake.
‘Today was a tough day’ – Bernal
"I just tried to ride with Caruso, who is the one I have to watch the most. I didn't want to take any risks. It's one day done, so onto the next one. I have some advantage with Yates so I need to just arrive with some time to Milan and then if I win the Giro with one second or two minutes it will be the same."
Another way of looking at it is this: on his day of suffering, Bernal emerged with fewer rivals for pink following the implosion of both Vlasov and Carthy – now both six minutes in arrears. Not too bad a day for the maglia rosa, then.