You know Egan Bernal. The feline pedal stroke, the sturdy beak-like nose, the Tour de France speckled palmarés. He’s a superstar of the sport. Suppose I was to tell you that when the peloton rolled out from Castel di Sangro, central Italy, this morning, our Colombian pal was still without a Grand Tour stage win to his name?
You’d brush me off dismissively, right? Cry fake news? Pause our conversation to furiously Google him, in search of data to back up the sure knowledge that he’s won a whole hatful?
You’d be out of luck.
It was only four hours later, after he’d scorched clear on the final gravelled ramps at the ski station of Campo Felice, that he popped that particular cherry. And spectacularly popped it was, too.
You suspect that when the Giro organisers added a 1.6 kilometre stretch of steep, winding gravel to our summit, they had two things in mind. First, that #gravel is the most 2021 of all the road surfaces and would play well on the ‘gram. Second, they’d have hoped for some man-on-man GC action, battling for both stage and Pink Jersey to really pull in the eyeballs.
Bernal did not disappoint.Embed from Getty Images
After a day of mountains, the gravel offered the steepest ramps of the stage. He was led into position by his Ineos Grenadiers, who’d cut the gap to a brave breakaway group rapidly; the situation morphing from probably-a-day-for-a-breakaway-win, to oh-my-god-look-how-quickly-Bernal-is-riding-past-those-poor-bastards! in the blink of an eye.
When he attacked, it was visceral. His bike leapt and skittered across the stony surface, pulling clear, with power to spare. All muscle and adrenaline. A red zone effort. Spectacular. “I have amazing legs,” he was saying, “and I’m not afraid to use them!”
Pink Jersey Atilla Valter, by this point, was distanced. Bernal’s fellow contenders for pink responded. With varying degrees of success/grip.
Italian Giulio Ciccone morphed from renegade attacker to end-of-stage whites-of-the-eyes contender before our very eyes. Aleksander Vlasov dug deep to join him. Next came Remco Evenepoel, who was initially slightly gapped, but regathered his composure, and a continually surprising Dan Martin. From there, in dribs and drabs, Carthy, Yates, Bardet, et al.
The Ineos man is now our race leader. All told, the rest shed seven, ten, twelve seconds. Nothing terminal, but the chip-chip of time and morale, and a message to the watching world that this dominant iteration of Egan Bernal, bad back or no bad back, is evoking the spirit of 2019.
And who, after the 2020 we’ve all endured, wouldn’t be happy with that?
(Top Image: Brendan Ryan via Flickr CC – https://www.flickr.com/photos/brendan2010/50243480551)