Giro d'Italia 2021 – Mikel Landa and Egan Bernal shine as Joao Almeida suffers in GC reshuffle
The explosive finale to the rain-soaked fourth stage of the Giro d’Italia to Sestola served to solve the leadership conundrums at a number of teams. As Egan Bernal laid down a marker in the fight for pink, the big loser of the day was Portugal’s Joao Almeida, but Vincenzo Nibali, Simon Yates, Pavel Sivakov and last year’s runner-up Jai Hindley may all be concerned by their time losses.
Highlights: GC favourites have late tussle in rain as Dombrowski triumphs
If Deceuninck Quick-Step and Ineos Grenadiers came into this Giro d’Italia with two-pronged attacks, it’s fair to say that both outfits now have a firm focal point in their respective quests for pink.
As Spain’s Mikel Landa set off a bomb on the short but sharp Colle Passerino after his Bahrain-Victorious team paved the way, the elastic snapped for the man who wore pink for two weeks last year. There was already a sense that Joao Almeida’s Giro d’Italia was not going to go his way when Quick-Step manager Pat Lefevere told the media that the Portuguese tyro would not be staying at the team beyond 2021. Why would a CEO of any reputable company say such a think without thinking of how it may destabilise the target of the veiled barb?
And so it proved as Almeida slipped further and further out of contention in the rain. Renowned for his battling performances en route to finishing fourth last October, the 22-year-old eventually came home almost six minutes down on the stage winner, the American Joe Dombrowski of UAE Team Emirates.
‘He has to deliver at some point’ – Smith calls on Landa to perform
To put that into some context: Almeida completed the 187km stage into the Apennines a whopping four minutes and 20 seconds down on his teammate Remco Evenepoel. The Belgian may be making his Grand Tour debut and riding his first race in half a year, but he’s now Deceuninck Quick-Step’s only valid GC option.
And although Evenepoel conceded 11 seconds to some of his main opponents while dropping five places on GC, the 21-year-old is still the best-placed of the major GC favourites ahead of Thursday’s first summit showdown. Unless you count Aleksandr Vlasov – the Astana rider who bowed out two days into his Giro debut last year – as a bona fide contender; the Russian is currently in seventh, four seconds clear of Evenepoel.
When Landa lit the torch paper, it was his former Sky teammate Egan Bernal who showed why he – and not Russia’s Pavel Sivakov – should emerge as the main focal point for Ineos Grenadiers over the next fortnight. The British team had the current man in pink, Filippo Ganna, on domestique duties for most of the day – and although the Italian powerhouse conceded the race lead to compatriot Alessandro De Marchi, Ineos will be happy with how Bernal reacted on the first GC test of the race.
The 2019 Tour de France champion led the chase on Landa alongside the rangy Russian Vlasov and the equally lithe Briton Hugh Carthy. They all finished together alongside the Italian climber Giulio Ciccone hot on the heels of the surviving 10 riders of the day’s initial 25-man breakaway, with Evenepoel coming home alongside Simon Yates, Romain Bardet and Dan Martin 11 seconds back.
Double Giro champion Vincenzo Nibali finished in a second group of favourites 34 seconds back alongside the likes of Emanuel Buchmann, Marc Soler, Pello Bilbao, Sivakov and last year’s runner-up Jai Hindley. Of the other GC hopefuls, the New Zealander George Bennett wilted in the rain and conceded 1’29”.
'There’s no coming back' - Giro already over for GC contender Almeida
What does this all mean?
Well, it’s a bit early to tell – and the foul weather certainly played its part. The picture will be far fuller in Ascoli Piceno on Thursday following the first proper uphill finish of the race. But for now it tells us a little bit more than the simple fact that Evenepoel is clearly Deceuninck-QuickStep’s leader.
It says that Bernal is perhaps in the right kind of nick to add a Giro win to his palmares. Time will tell is his persistent back problems are a thing of the past, but it’s hard seeing Sivakov, with his chugging diesel engine, now leading any kind of charge for Ineos.
We also have proof that this could be Landa’s best shot of ever winning a Grand Tour. Amazingly, the Basque climber has only once finished on the podium of a major three-week stage race – six years ago in the Giro. He has since struggled with leadership issues at Astana, Sky and Movistar. But Landa has a super-strong Bahrain-Victorious team behind him in Italy – as evidenced in the final 20km on Tuesday – and this time, Landa was able to pull the trigger when he was handed the gun.
Admittedly, he wasn’t able to shoot anyone except Evenepoel – but the very fact that he is armed and dangerous should send shivers down some spines in Italy.
Up to 15th on GC and level on time with BikeExchange’s Yates, Landa is only 21 seconds behind Evenepoel and 10 seconds behind Bernal. Crucially, his teammate and fellow Basque rider Bilbao isn’t ahead of him, which solves another one of those leadership conundrums – for now.
Landa attacks to ‘start party’ for GC favourites
As for the only previous winner of the Giro in the race, Nibali was always up against it following his wrist injury in April – and it should also be remembered that he usually gets stronger as a stage race progresses. But the Shark’s 34-second loss to teammate Ciccone on Tuesday may be a sign that it’s the younger, punchier Italian who could go on to spearhead Trek-Segafredo’s pursuit of pink, and not the 36-year-old veteran dining out on previous glories.
The strong performance of Frenchman Bardet, meanwhile, will put pressure on Hindley at Team DSM. Not only is the Australian probably on his way out at the end of the season, but conceding 34 seconds to the two-time Tour de France podium finisher now sees him drop behind Bardet in the nascent standings, albeit only by 17 seconds.
It’s very early days, but already we’re getting a good understanding of who will be in the reckoning for glory in the 104th edition of the Giro d’Italia. The only certainty at this point is that Joao Almeida and George Bennett won’t. But the writing will soon be on the wall for some others – especially if Bernal, Landa and Vlasov continue riding in this vein.
- - -
You can watch the Giro d'Italia live and ad-free on the Eurosport app and Eurosport.co.uk. Download the Eurosport app for iOS and Android now. You can also watch the most comprehensive live & ad-free racing on GCN+. Go deeper and get interactive with live polls & quizzes, plus rider profiles, race updates, results & more – plus stream exclusive cycling documentaries. Watch it all with GCN+ on any device.