Giro Stage 14: The GC Fog Lifts
The GC picture becomes even clearer on a brutal fog-covered Zoncolan summit finish
Lorenzo Fortunato held off a surging Jan Tratnik on absurdly steep and fog-covered final kilometers of stage 14 of the Giro d’Italia to conquer the mighty Monte Zoncolan. Fortunato’s win from the early breakaway was both a career-defining victory for the young Italian and a massive win for his tiny EOLO-Kometa team.
Back in the fight for the general classification, Egan Bernal extended his lead despite laying low until the final three kilometers when he responded to a serious Simon Yates attack. While he briefly looked under pressure, Bernal once again left no doubt when he counter-attacked viciously and dropped Yates inside the final kilometer. The sight of the Colombian flying past survivors of the early breakaway in the final hundred meters of the foggy, snow-covered mountain was awe-inspiring for viewers but likely highly demoralizing for competitors.
Stage 14 Notebook:
61.3km: Astana setting a hard pace on the mid-stage climb. Interesting that they are taking control of this stage and letting Ineos, who should have the responsibility of setting pace, to sit back and get a free ride. Maybe they are riding for a stage win with Vlasov, but I don’t really know why?
47km: We get our answer as Astana breaks the peloton up on the descent. Bernal and Caruso go with them but neither have teammates. Impressive from Astana. Remco is stuck in the third group way back.
46km: Luis Leon Sanchez drilling it on the front but still no urgency in the chase group with Carthy, Yates, and Vlasov.
42.4km: Evenepoel struggles with technical riding in general and this tricky descent caught him out. Probably has some mental scar tissue from his crash. Giuseppe Martinelli, the Astana director, probably knows this and saw an opportunity for his team to capitalize on it.
16.4km: Contenders are all together as they hit the bottom of the climb. Astana is still on the front, but will certainly run out of gas in the next few kms since they’ve been up here for hours at this point. The gap to the break is at 6’23 and has been growing for the last 10km, but I still don’t think it is a sure thing that they make it.
10.5km: Astana leading the peloton on the lower slopes of the climb, but Vlasov has slipped off their wheels and is sitting behind Bernal.
9km: Jan Tratnik has attacked off the front of the breakaway and would be an unlikely winner here, but the climb is so close to his home country of Slovenia that he is likely very familiar with it.
8.8km: Astana on the front but Vlasov keeps slipping back, not a good sign.
8km: Moscon and Ineos take the front. Bernal must be feeling good and they don’t think the pace is hard enough. Astana wasn’t putting any time into the break, who is essentially dead on their feet.
7.3km: Bernal litters, technically that is a 30-second time penalty.
7.2km: Moscon pulls off and Ineos is down to 3 riders plus Bernal. But they really just have to make it to the 3km-to-go mark, since I assume Bernal will attack there. Gap to the break is 5’10, they will stay away, has only come down a minute in the last 7km.
5.6km: Nibali dropped. Not super surprising, but it does tell us this Ineos pace is pretty serious in this group.
5.1km: Evenepoel still here and looks slightly uncomfortable.
4.9km: Gap to the break still 4’36, Tratnik and Lorenzo Fortunato still have 44-seconds over the chasers.
4.5km: Narvaez pulls off, Castroviejo takes over for Ineos. He is the last non-GC domestique for Ineos. Only Martinez left after he pulls off.
3.5km: Tatnik has been joined by Fortunato and the two leaders leave the false flat section and hit the steep final section. The peloton will hit this in less than 5-minutes and I assume Castroviejo will pull off there. Martinez will just try to stay close to Bernal in case he needs a new bike.
3.1km: I’m not sure this is a win for the break. The gap is down to 3’59 and if Bernal attacks, he could take more than a minute per kilometer. The gap between the two leaders and the chasers is 53-seconds, so they are only 3-minutes in front of the GC riders.
2.3km: Bernal group hits the steep part. Tratnik dropped by Lorenzo Fortunato. Covi jumps out of the chase group in pursuit.
1.9km: Castroviejo still on the front. Remco is struggling, which isn’t surprising since this is the steepest and hardest climb he’s ever raced
1.7km: Covi still at 43-seconds, so Fortunato has a legit chance here.
1.5km: Remco sitting last wheel, which is the worst possible place to be right now.
1.3km: Martinez now pacing for Bernal at a really high tempo. He could really put time into Remco here.
1.2km: Bernal swinging around to look at who is struggling. Very Armstrong-eqsue
1km: Evenepoel dropped and on the radio for Joao to drop back and help him.
.9km: Vlasov really hurting and Simon Yates attacks, and he needs to. He denotes the field almost immediately, which shows that the others were under serious pressure.
.8km: Bernal follows, but everyone else is distanced surprisingly quickly.
.7km: Yates is really flying and looks great. Bernal looks under pressure for the first time this race.
.6km: Tratnik is still in this race. He is lurking menacingly a few meters behind Fortunato and actually looks stronger.
.4km: Yates is still driving while Bernal appears to just hang onto his wheel. Yates doesn’t appear to be under any physical stress and almost looks to be breathing through his nose.
Finish: Fortunato holds off a defiant Tratnik and rides through the mist to get a massive stage win for both him and his tiny EOLO-Kometa team.
Bernal’s struggles are proven to be merely superficial as he attacks and drops Yates. He surges by George Bennett, who had a 3-minute lead on him less than 3-kilometers earlier.
GC Finish: Bernal is absolutely flying. He chases down another rider from the break, Bauke Mollema, in the final 100 meters. He blows by Bauke and finishes without Yates visible behind him. He is only 1’43 behind the stage winner Fortunato, which means he pulled back over two minutes on him in the final 3kms.
Yates comes in 11-seconds behind Bernal, while Martinez comes in 39-seconds back with Caruso and Ciccone. Carthy comes in a further 54-seconds back, while Vlasov finishes 1’12 behind Bernal.
Remco losses over two minutes and Joao certainly doesn’t look too happy after having to sit up and wait for him.
Stage Top Ten:
New GC Standings:
A career-defining win for Lorenzo Fortunato. He won the race when he left the rest of the breakaway to go with Tratnik. From there, he just had to use his lighter build to his advantage on the final steep pitches.
Yet another big win for a small team and previously unknown rider at this Giro. The team is incredibly small and likely only got the invite to the race due to being owned by Alberto Contador, a two-time winning of this race. But this win validates the race organizer’s decision to invite the squad.
My quick count has nine of the 14 stages being won by riders getting their first career grand tour victories. This is unprecedented and speaks to the youth movement and the power of the breakaway at this year’s race.
In the GC battle, Bernal is the huge winner. And considering these gaps were all created in the final 3km, these are big losses for everyone but Simon Yates. And for the first time in this race, he is the ‘leader in the clubhouse’ with a gap big enough to hold off any challengers in the final TT.
An interesting note is that despite talk of time gaps on mountain stage being massive relative to non-mountain stages, every road GC stage (4, 6, 9, 11, 14) have produced similar time gaps despite some featuring relatively ‘easy’ climbs.
The stage was slightly anti-climatic due to any attacking from the GC contenders until the final few kilometers, but don’t let this fool you. This was a brutal effort for these riders and these are some of the biggest GC gaps we’ve seen so far. To put into perspective, Bernal’s lead to Yates is now larger than the difference between 1st and 2nd in the past five editions.
Additionally, the Zoncolan tends to portend riders’ fitness for the third week. Cracks we saw today in the form of riders like Carthy, Vlasov, and Evenepoel could be blown open in the final week.
Yates, despite being dropped by Bernal quite dramatically, is the other winner of the day. He now looks like the best of the rest, and if he can stay in a close second, he puts himself in a position to capitalize if Bernal has any third-week issues.
For a brief moment, I thought Yates would ride away from Bernal and lay the groundwork for a comeback on the Zoncolan in exactly the same fashion Froome did after riding away from him on these same steep slopes back in 2018. But, any idea that Bernal was struggling was put to rest with that attack in the final 400 meters.
Caruso mitigates any big losses and holds his third place and is still flying completely under the radar.
The big losers are Vlasov, Carthy, and Evenepoel. They lose time to Bernal and Yates when they needed to be gaining it.
Making matters worse is that Martinez gains time on them after setting pace for Bernal.
Astana ends up looking like fools since they rode themselves into the ground and isolated Vlasov in the end, but in the end, I’m not sure they deserve the grief they are getting for these tactics. Sure, they did do Ineos’ job all day and gave Bernal a free ride, but at least they tried something and attempted to isolate Bernal and put Ineos under pressure.
And in the end, I’m not sure sitting in and waiting for the final climb would have mattered. Bernal was just flat-out stronger and on these steep slopes, teammates can’t really help you. And remember, if they split they drove into the group holds and Vlasov finishes with Bernal atop the Zoncolan, they look like geniuses.
However, one major downside is that this could seriously weaken Astana for Monday’s massive stage, which would have served as a much better opportunity for an ambush than today’s fairly straightforward parcours.
I also wonder if Astana’s wipeout today will deter any other teams from taking the race to Ineos in the final mountain stages. If so, this could turn into a procession for Bernal.
It is hard to see Evenepoel rallying back from this. He appears to be running out of gas and we have a lot of Giro left.
The only potential dark horse I can see coming back in this third week is Buchmann. He had a pretty good day on a climb that doesn’t suit him. He limited his losses to Bernal and Yates and took time on Vlasov and Carthy. If he wouldn’t have lost 1’18 to Bernal in the cold and rainy first week, he’d be sitting comfortably in second place.
Stage 15 Preview & Predictions
Tomorrow’s stage 15 can’t be called ‘easy’, but the GC contenders will most likely use it as an opportunity to rest their legs after today’s brutal summit finish and the massive mountain stage through the Dolomites on Monday. In short, the stage hunters better get a good warmup before the start.
This would be a great stage win opportunity for Peter Sagan, but to do so, his Bora team has to be game to invest a huge amount of energy to keep the breakaway close in between two brutal GC days.
The fight for the break will be brutal and Jan Tratnik will try to get into the move since the stage passes through his home country of Slovenia.
Prediction: Peter Sagan wins the stage out of a highly reduced bunch sprint after his Bora team shreds the peloton on the final climb.