Giro d’Italia 2021 Stage 21: Bernal deep-breathes to victory

Towards the end of his ride today Filippo Ganna, overwhelming favourite to win this final stage time-trial, punctured. He pulled over, hopped on the spare bike, and posted a brilliant time nonetheless.

Towards the end of his ride Remi Cavagna, Ganna’s closest challenger, misjudged a corner and careened over the handlebars in pleasingly schoolboy fashion. He remounted, to conceded twelve seconds to the Italian and take second.

This was the extent of the drama today.

A second stage win for Ganna – the final stage, to add to the opening stage, bookending the race – and a satisfyingly serene passage for his teammate Egan Bernal to the Giro d’Italia title. The Colombian and his dominant team having dealt with this race, mob handed, like a Froome-era Team Sky.

For Bernal, it was a race of three parts.

He’d begun poker-faced and in control. The physical appearance of a nine-year-old boy backed up by the mental strength of a marine. He then morphed into an all-action stage-winning gravel-monster, before wobbling ever so slightly, in the face of a final week guerrilla raid from Simon Yates and a dose of grit-jawed attrition from Damiano Caruso. In the final stages he managed his efforts to deep-breathe his way calmly to victory.

We wondered, once or twice, but his win was never truly in doubt.

As Giros go, we should let the dust settle before we place this one in the pantheon of the previous one-hundred and three. Somewhere in the middle feels about right. A Pink Jersey contest lacking drama, studded with moments of exquisite excitement.

Embed from Getty Images

Taco van der Hoorn gave us a laugh with the improbability of his Stage 3 breakaway win. The Tuscan gravel stage to Montalcino was a modern classic. The wet, frozen mountain schlepp to Cortina, much of which was lost to the vagaries of Alpine 4G coverage, defined Bernal as a genuine, whatever-the-weather champion. Alberto Bettiol’s breakaway win on Stage 18 was a thing of utter joy.

And one more footnote: fans.

In contrast to the Covid-restricted edition of 2020 there were people everywhere. Masked up, sure, but still people. Chasing the riders. Dressing up as animals. Roaring and cacophonous on the climbs.

Reminding us, if we needed it, that the presence of a crowd makes the entire concept of a bike race – and a skinny man busting a gut for the sake of a pink t-shirt – a whole lot more meaningful.

(Top Image: via Twitter @ https://twitter.com/giroditalia/status/1399075844539228172)

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