With seven kilometres of the final eleven-kilometre climb of Sega di Ala remaining Dan Martin was pulling pain faces. But we know he does this. He can suffer more than most. With a highly motivating first career Giro stage win on the horizon he wasn’t about to die wondering.
With four kilometres to go, such was the rictus face and gnarled body language, he brought to mind a man, implausibly, about to give birth. Breathing deep, fully dilated, and managing the pain. With two to go he was on the team radio requesting an epidural. Ethical to the end, his team refused.
And so it was that he hung on by thirteen seconds from a rampant Joao Almeida to birth a beautiful, bouncing win.
He now has the set – Tour, Vuelta, and Giro stage wins – and reminds us once more, winning from the day’s breakaway, of his utter class as a bike rider.
Back down the road to the tune of thirty seconds came Simon Yates. Probably also in pain but hiding it behind that serene poker face of his. Perhaps concealing the faint curling of a smile. Because Yates, remarkably, given what we’ve seen for the last two and a half weeks, had attacked and caused pristine leader in pink Egan Bernal to crack.
While Yates took on the steep ramps of the climb in that rigid, upright position of his, Bernal was arched and straining. The imperious power of past stages replaced by a tortuous, strangled pedal stroke.
Ineos teammate Dani Martinez cajoled his leader, at one point fist pumping and cheerleading, giving it the full “Vamos Egan! We can do this!” But Bernal couldn’t. The unwavering support from his pal was a lovely thing to see but Bernal shipped almost a minute to Yates.
From the state of him, on the steeper sections, that small time-loss counts as a little victory.
The other saving grace being the time he gained over Aleksandr Vlasov (almost two minutes) and Hugh Carthy (close to three); two of his near challengers who suffered worse days than him.Embed from Getty Images
No need to proclaim disaster just yet. Bernal still leads this Giro d’Italia by over two minutes to Damiano Caruso and nearly three and a half to Yates.
The question is: what did we see today?
Was this simply a random case of bad legs? A dose of the post-rest day blues? A return of the debilitating back injury that blighted him last year? A harbinger of doom? Or just a blip on his way to a still comfortable Giro d’Italia victory to be sealed in four days’ time?
We will see.
Simon Yates, for one, is pretty keen to ask the question.
(Top Image: filip bossuyt from Kortrijk, Belgium, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons)
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