Giro Stage 21: A Showdown in Milan
Plus quick takeaways from who won and lost at this year's Giro
Egan Bernal polished off his impressive overall win at the 2021 Giro d’Italia with a solid time trial performance in Milan. He lost 30-seconds to Damiano Caruso, who rode to a career-defining second place overall, on the day, but his generous time buffer meant he was never seriously under pressure and was even able to sit up and celebrate his win in front of the famous Duomo di Milano. Simon Yates suffered the worst performance on the day out of the GC contenders, but his time gap to 4th place was large enough that he was able to comfortably secure his third place overall.
In the fight for the stage win, Filippo Ganna emerged victorious despite suffering an ill-time flat in the final two kilometers after Remi Cavagna, the only true challenger, crashed after misreading a corner in the final kilometer.
The stage wrapped up the 2021 Giro d’Italia, which may have failed to deliver a truly epic fight for the overall general classification, but did deliver a stunning 13 stage wins from riders who had not previously won a grand tour stage, took us through some of the most beautiful parts of the world, and most importantly, signaled that Italy is back after a truly difficult past year.
Stage 21 Notebook:
Ganna, as usual, looks fantastic and unbeatable on the TT bike. His position is so aero and his butt is so far above his upper body that we can’t even see his head from the angle below. What is so impressive is that he can still hold close to 500 watts for extended periods with his body contorted in this fashion.
Inside the final 2kms, he suffers a puncture. But what is key is that he doesn’t panic and calmly signals to the follow car that he has an issue and needs a new bike. What is key is that he doesn’t slow down until he knows the mechanic behind is ready to make the change.
This is where the athleticism of Ganna really stands out. Most cyclists really struggle to quickly dismount their bikes, especially in the cumbersome clip-in pedals and shoes. But Ganna just quickly throws the bike behind him and is able to effortlessly step over the handlebars.
He then gets a new bike from the follow car and is back on his way. He actually biffs getting into the pedals, which can really throw a lot of riders off, but he doesn’t panic and makes sure he is securely clipped into the bike before taking off.
Here is the change at full-speed:
What is really impressive is that when we look at the time splits from the last intermediate check to the finish line, Ganna, despite having to come to a complete stop, dismount, get a new bike and start from a stop, still finished 8th over this section and only 22-seconds behind the fastest time of Matteo Sobrero.
Second Time Check 19km-30km:
After Edoardo Affini comes in 13-seconds down on Ganna, Remi Cavagna is the only rider left who is capable of challenging for the stage win. And coming into the final kilometer, Cavagna is putting out a sustained 450 watts, has an absurdly high speed of 57kms/hr, and looks to have the stage won.
But, inside the final 500 meters, he appears to misread a sharp left-hand turn as a slight right bend. He comes into it at full speed and on the wrong side of the road. For a left-hand turn, you’d want to be pinned on the right side of the road. These errors mean he can’t even attempt the turn and goes straight into the barriers.
He would recover incredibly well and get back on his bike and finish the stage without losing too much time, but, he is 12-seconds behind Ganna, all of which likely came from the crash and ensuing restart.
9km into Damiano Curaso’s ride, he is an impressive 12-seconds up on Egan Bernal and appears to be easily turning over a huge gear.
This puts him at an impressive 8th place in the first time check.
But, even if Caruso holds up this impressive performance, he would only go on to take 36-seconds on Bernal at the end of the stage. At this point, I’ve seen enough from Bernal to feel confident that he will hold onto the Maglia Rosa and win the overall.
When we look at the top three riding side-by-side-by-side, we can see that Caruso clearly looks the strongest, with Bernal in 2nd and Yates in 3rd.
And sure enough, by the time Bernal gets to the finishing straight next to the Duomo in the center of Milan, he has lost 30-seconds to Caruso (but actually gained time on Yates). He sits up and enjoys the moment as he crosses the line. This is unusual for time trials, but in my opinion, is one of the things that makes the final day TT so great.
Stage Top Five:
GC Contenders TT Gaps on Stage:
Joao Almeida +0
Dani Martinez +54
Damiano Caruso +56
Aleksandr Vlasov +59
Egan Bernal +1’26
Hugh Carthy +2’00
Simon Yates +2’18
Final Overall Top Ten:
You can access info from every intermediate, and final, time check with this Google Sheet.
Some Quick Takeaways:
Bernal did a great job of riding within himself, not taking unnecessary risks out on course, and finishing off a big Giro win.
The race for the stage win was more exciting than expected, but Ganna still came out on top. After the stage, he said he had bad legs, which makes sense considering all the work he did for Bernal in the final week. But even with an ‘off-day’ and an ill-timed puncture, he takes a commanding victory, which is really impressive and shows we are witnessing one of the best time trialists in the history of the sport.
Speaking of which, these average speeds are absolutely bananas. The leaders nearly covered 30kms in 30 minutes, and even the non-TT-specific GC riders averaged over 50km/hr. If we flashback to the Armstrong era, even the fastest time trialist would be lucky to crash 50km/hr. I attribute this speed increase to smarter pacing tactics and an improvement in aero tech.
Joao Almeida absolutely crushed this time trial to move up to 6th overall. This is really impressive considering he was called back to stay with Remco multiple times in the first two weeks, and his minute and a half gap to Bernal shows that without his off-day on stage 4, he might have been able to stay close enough to win this race on the final day.
Bernal won the race, but another Colombian was seriously impressive. Dani Martinez, despite working for Bernal the entire race, finishes 5th overall and absolutely crushes this final TT. The 25-year-old got his best-ever GC finish and proved himself as a top-tier climber and time trialist. I cannot understand why EF let him out of his contract early at the end of 2020 since he is shaping up to be one of the strongest riders on the deepest team in the peloton. Something interesting to watch in the future is how Ineos handles Matinez. He proved this Giro that he is strong enough to lead a team on his own, and perhaps could be even stronger than Bernal in the future, especially with his strong TT ability.
Damiano Caruso’s line-to-line performance this Giro was truly inspiring. The 33-year-old seamlessly slotted into Bahrain’s leadership role after his leader Mikel Landa crashed out on stage 5 and completely shocked everyone with both his consistency and his ability to win the race’s Queen stage on Saturday. And for those who think he merely fell into this 2nd overall, his average power on the 25-minute final climb on stage 20 was 410 watts, which is a world-class performance at the end of a grand tour mountain stage.
Egan Bernal wins the 2nd grand tour of his career and shows us he is fully back after a disappointing 2020 season. We still don’t know if he can compete head-to-head with the other GC wunderkind Tadej Pogacar, but any grand tour win is special, especially from riders without a knockdown time trial, so he should certainly savor this win, and we should be happy that a potential Pogacar challenger is back to his best.
Tobias Foss got almost no attention during this race, but the 24-year-old Norwegian really impressed in his second career grand tour start. If he can continue his improvement in the mountains, he could emerge as a formidable force in TT-heavy grand tours down the line.
Left Something to be Desired
Hugh Carthy was facing high expectations after his 3rd place overall at the 2020 Vuelta but has suffered to capture that level so far in 2021 and never seemed to find his climbing legs at this Giro.
Simon Yates gets the second grand tour podium of his career, but after coming into this race with flying form and failing to mount a serious challenge for the win, it is hard not to feel like the 28-year-old has hit his peak.
Vincenzo Nibali is one of my favorite all-time riders, but I think that it is time we officially retire the 36-year-old from the conversation of potential GC contender at grand tours. He finished a distant 18th place and he seemed to struggle anytime the race got difficult. While he was suffering from a broken wrist this year, his 7th place at an extremely weak Giro in 2020 tells me that his days of grand tour glory are over.
Deceuninck-QuickStep really mismanaged this race. They somewhat strangely put everything behind Evenepoel’s overall ambitions instead of spreading out their bets and as a result, come away with no stage wins and no podium finish. Also, Almeida’s great final week shows that if they would have allowed him to race for himself, even after his disappointing stage 4, that he could have still finished on the podium, or maybe even won the overall. Remember, he was sent into a breakaway on stage 16, but he wasn’t so far down, he possibly could have limited his losses to Bernal, or perhaps even taken time, if he hadn’t been out front the entire stage.
Peter Sagan won the sprint classification plus a stage. While he has gotten a bit of grief for not fighting for more stage wins, he was basically here just to train for the Tour and Olympics after a bad case of COVID set him back earlier this year. The sprint jersey and stage win are a great result for him and prove he is on track to fight for Green at this coming Tour de France and possibly even challenge for victory at the Olympics.
Patrick Lefeverve came out yesterday and said that his DQS team isn’t interested in Sagan due to his large entourage. But Giovanni Lombardi, Sagan’s agent, has been seen celebrating a new contract signing at this Giro, so what is going on here? I believe that Sagan is going to Total Direct Energie for 2022. And before you laugh, remember, Bora was a tiny 2nd division team before signing Sagan. His entourage formed the original framework for the new WorldTour team and allowed them to build into what they are today. Direct Energie will have noticed this and the wheels could be turning.
This Giro once again proves that we don’t get minutes in the high mountains anymore. The biggest gaps came in short, lower altitude climbs, time trials, or alternative terrain stages. This is a trend in recent grand tours that the media and even directors have yet to catch up with. This shows why riders have to be really aggressive and creative to take time when they can since they can’t simply lean on their TT performances. Look at Bernal and Caruso, they both gained time on the others with first-week aggression, and in Caruso’s case, an attack on a descent later in the race.
I will be taking tomorrow off for the Memorial Day holiday, but I will be sending out a more in-depth Giro Roundup/Lessons Learned Post on Tuesday.