In the end we find ourselves talking about Remco. This is the story. The travails of Belgian superstar Evenepoel, the most sparkling of the breed of ‘new humans,’ as Pete Kennaugh recently coined them, currently ripping up our favourite sport.
This is despite the fact that Swiss youngster Mauro Schmid chose a gripping rollercoaster Stage 11 to take the first win of his pro career. And Pink Jersey Egan Bernal, with the support of a muscular band of teammates, bossed the group of favourites to gain more precious time.
Evenepoel losing two minutes, tumbled to seventh overall, ripping the team radio from his ear in frustration as the Giro potentially pedaled away through the dust.
It seemed to be the gravel that did for him.
‘Sterrato’ are the white roads that criss-cross Tuscany. They’re part of the modern obsession with finding terrible road surfaces to race bikes on. They’re up there with the humble cobblestone in this regard. See the rutted, random farm tracks of Brittany (the ribinoù), showcased recently at Tro Bro Leon, for more of this.
My mocking tone, though, is comprehensively undermined by the fact that these roads deliver some of the most spectacular, unpredictable, risky road racing it’s possible to see.
Remco, at this point, is not a fan.
Towards the end of the first of four sectors of sterrato he was dangling off the back. He then used the smooth asphalt in between to regain position before dangling again when gravel reappeared.Embed from Getty Images
By sector three, with twenty kilometres of the race to go, he lost touch with the main group. A tiny gap, a lost wheel, soon became a gaping chasm. A Pink Jersey shaped hole. At this precise moment, as illuminated beautifully on split screen by the broadcasters, Egan Bernal himself had sensed the drama of the moment.
Or maybe his team boss had whispered it gently in his ear?
Either way, he was on the front and battering along through dust. Piling the pressure on young Remco. Moment seized.
Whether the technicalities of the gravel, the tiredness in legs returning from serious injury, or a combination of the two, Stage 11 might be the day our Belgian pal’s challenge for this year bit the dust. Or, y’know, being Remco, it might be the point where he frees himself from the shackles, goes full-gas on the attack and wins the damn thing like a legend.
Prior to today’s stage, and it’s thirty-five kilomtres of gravel, this random, risky element introduced into the controlled Grand Tour environment was the source of much debate. A renegade threat to the carefully calibrated race planning of the main contenders. We knew we would get winners and losers today.
For stage winner Schmid, from the day’s breakaway, WHAT a stage to take your first pro win. Is this another of Kennaugh’s ‘new humans?’
For Bernal, once Remco was dispatched he finished the job. A seriously trimmed down group of leaders completed the gravel and then took on one final asphalt climb to finish in Montalcino. After ragged attacks here and there – Carthy, Soler, Ciccone – the Colombian went clear with German Emanuel Buchmann and stole time.
Words like ‘imperious,’ and ‘dominant’ leap from the Big Book o’ Cycling Cliches to describe his performance.
Twenty odd seconds back was Vlasov, then in dribs and drabs came Yates, Caruso, Foss and Carthy. Ciccone and Soler followed. Irishman Dan Martin, previously so strong and well placed, lost six minutes.
I’ve seen too many Giro’s over the years to proclaim Egan Bernal the race winner after eleven stages. There are an awful lot of mountains between here and Milan. At this race, stuff happens.
But right now?
He’s the boss.