Giro d’Italia 2021 Stage 19: like cat and dog

There’s something cat-like about Simon Yates. I think it’s the tendon-taught climbing style, controlled and deliberate. If he fell from a high window you sense he’d land on his feet. He also gives the impression that what you think, about him or anyone else, is of no concern to him whatsoever.

Like I said, cat-like.

Joao Almeida, by contrast, is canine. Puppyish. Tongue lolling, head forward, and eager; ever-ready to perform for a treat. The pair of them, cat and dog, appear to be the two strongest riders in this race right now. As displayed by an impressive one-two atop the summit of the steep, unforgiving Alpe di Mera.

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By this stage of a Grand Tour, into the final, dog-days, ninety-five percent of the peloton are hanging on for Milan. The remaining five percent will contest the key moments for our viewing pleasure.

We watch them, stripped back, as their characters are revealed before our eyes.

Sometimes we compare them to animals.

Hugh Carthy: alpaca, obviously.

Third on today’s stage was race leader Egan Bernal. When Almeida had attacked, with six-and-a-half kilometres to go, and Yates had followed, the immediate gap to Bernal threatened to reveal a chasm. We knew, right there, that Bernal had been asked a very difficult question indeed.

Scratching his head in search of an answer, his entire Giro hung suspended before our eyes. Crack – like really crack – now, and Yates might take big chunks out of his race lead.

Thinking quickly, loyal teammate Dani Martinez, he of the fist-pumping motivational episode on Stage 17, bough Bernal some time. He set a tempo to keep the attackers on a short leash. His man, meanwhile, kept his cool. The gap went out to thirty seconds and then hovered.

With Yates clear at the front and Almeida chasing him, Martinez finally blew a gasket inside the final three kilometres. Bernal, teammate free, was steady. If the question posed by Yates and Almeida back down the slope had been “how strong are you, Egan?” the answer, it seems, was “I’m about the third strongest I think chaps…but thanks for asking.”

He would lose around thirty seconds to third-placed-overall Yates, and gain a second or two on second-placed Damiano Caruso, who rolled in just behind him.

With a big mountain stage tomorrow, followed by a Milanese time-trial on Sunday, and a lead of two and a half minutes to Caruso and almost three to Yates, third strongest should be enough.

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Yates, ever feline, was no doubt very happy with his win today and is now safely back at the team hotel licking himself clean. We can only hope that Almeida, on the attack and rescuing some pride from a disappointing Giro for his team, is having his tummy tickled by team boss Patrick Lefevere as we speak.

Tomorrow, as the race ascends the huge peaks of the Passo San Bernadino and the Splugenpass for a summit finish at Alpe Motta, Bernal needs to fight like a cornered animal for one final time.

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