Rest Day Analysis: Can Anyone Challenge Bernal in the Final Week?
On the surface, Bernal appears to have this Giro win in the bag, but the recent history of the race suggests otherwise
With just five days of racing left in this year’s Giro d’Italia after today’s rest day, it is a great time to sit down to look at the current GC situation as well as taking a look at the stage we have remaining.
First of all, the current GC standings have Egan Bernal holding a commanding 2’24 lead over surprise second-place Damiano Caruso and 3’40 over Hugh Carthy in a distant third place overall.
Current GC Standings:
When looking at these standings, we want to keep in mind that we have a looming 30-kilometer TT on the final day in Milan. If we take each GC contender’s time loss/gain relative to each other from the 9km-long stage 1 TT and extrapolate it out over the 30kms waiting on stage 21, we get the following final standings.
TT Weighted Final GC Projections:
Bardet + 5’47
Unlike the first rest day, Bernal would likely win the overall if we went into the final time trial with the current time gaps. But, we should keep in mind that these calculations, and really any logic, start to break down in the last week of a grand tour. A great example is the final time trial at the 2020 Tour de France, where Tadej Pogacar put significantly more time into leader Primoz Roglic and went on to take the overall win.
But, even if we assume significant deviations from this model, the takeaway should be that everyone except Bernal and Caruso will likely attempt to take time on each other in the final five stages. I expect Caruso would be incredibly happy to take second overall at this race, and will just attempt to hold his spot, while Bernal and Ineos will finally stop attempting to take time on the others and just simply attempt to hold their current lead.
If we look at the remaining stages, outside of a ‘flat’ marathon day on stage 18, it is either uphill finishes or time trials, which present great opportunities for anyone wanting to take time.
Remaining Stages 2021 Giro d’Italia:
Stage 17: Canazei – Sega di Ala 193km mountains [Uphill Finish: 11.5km @ 9.5%]
Stage 18: Rovereto – Stradella 231km flat
Stage 19: Abbiategrasso – Alpe di Mera 176km mountains [Uphill Finish: 9.4km @ 9.2%]
Stage 20: Verbania – Alpe Motta 164km mountains [Uphill Finish: 7.3km @ 7.7%]
Stage 21: Senago – Milan 30.3km ITT
Unfortunately for the rest of the field, anytime we have gone uphill, Bernal has put time into the rest. This makes it difficult to imagine anyone taking time back on Bernal, and if anything, he will be able to ride conservatively into the final kilometer before exploding out of the field and pad his lead even further.
Adding an additional obstacle for any would-be challengers is that this Ineos Giro team is absurdly strong on rolling terrain, of which there is a surplus at this year’s race. Their only weakness is getting support for Bernal over multiple high mountains, but fortunately for them, stage 16 was the only true multiple mountain stage where Bernal could have been isolated.
This is likely exactly why they brought a team full of strongmen like Ganna and Moscon, instead of their usual fleet of mountain goats. This team construction shows they really did their homework and will allow them to control the peloton with ease over the final four road stages.
And even if a team like EF could isolate Bernal in between two mountain passes, it is hard to imagine him being put under any real pressure. His fail-proof escape hatch emergency plan is that he can just attack and drop everyone else whenever he pleases.
But It’s Not Over Until It’s Over
Fortunately, while we lost a great stage on Monday, we do have summit finishes coming up on stages 17, 19, and 20. Unfortunately, this will likely only help Bernal extend his lead, since Ineos will be able to hold the peloton together until the final climb and Bernal can easily fend for himself once on the slopes.
But, and this is a big but, the Giro is famous for third-week race leadership changes. In the last five editions, the average stage on which the eventual winner didn’t take the race lead for the final time was stage 19.
Stage Giro Winner Took Race Lead:
2020: Stage 21
2019: Stage 14
2018: Stage 19
2017: Stage 21
2016: Stage 20
With this in mind, it would certainly be dangerous to just assume Bernal, who took the Maglia Rosa on stage 9, has the win the bag, even though he is looking more like Vincenzo Nibali in 2014, who took the race lead on stage 8 than any of the other recent winners who had to come from behind.
Even if a thrilling fight for the win doesn’t materialize, we should finally see some significant action to fight for places 2nd through 7th, which are only separated by 2’07. The teams of those riders will finally have to come to the front and make things hard, which could see the GC riders fighting it out for victory on these summit finishes instead of the breakaways.
Stage’s 19 & 20 offer multiple big climbs one after the other, so we still may get to see some more dynamic mountain racing. But something to keep an eye on is further stage shortening or even potential cancellation due to weather. This is a good chance we see more weather similar to what we saw on stage 16. And with RCS already shortening stages due to rain in the high mountains, it is hard to imagine them running a full mountain stage in the cold and rain just a few days later.
Passo Giau Reveals The Giro’s Best Climbers
Bernal set a record on the Giau on stage 16, beating Joe Dombrowski’s Strava record by 42-seconds. But, this is a bit misleading since the pass is normally climbed at the end of a brutal mountain stage, not with Monday’s relatively clean run-up. Also, the last time the peloton did it in 2016, it wasn’t the day’s final climb, which means the riders were holding back slightly.
BTP Compiled All-Time Passo Giau Times:
2021: Bernal - 32’45
2016: Joe Dombrowski - 33’27
2021: Damiano Caruso - 33’27
2016: Steven Kruijswijk - 33’32
2016 Vincenzo Nibali - 33’34
2021: Romain Bardet - 33’53
2012: Pozzovivo-Hesjedal-Basso-Rodriguez - 33’53
Bardet went over the climb more than a minute down on Bernal but pegged back 40-50 seconds on the descent, while Caruso was only around 35-seconds slower than Bernal, who was absolutely flying. I think this could be an interesting window into predicting climbing form for the final few stages. Yates appears to be struggling with the cold and rain, of which there will only be more of in the next week, and Carthy has struggled on the Giau and the Zoncolan, the two hardest climbs of the race so far. He went deep to stay with Bernal but was dropped by both Bardet and Caruso closer to the top.
These Giau climbing times could be telling us that Caruso is a much better climber than everyone expected. Carthy is considered one of the best pure climbers in the peloton and he was soundly beaten on one of the race’s hardest climbs by Caruso.
What will happen for the rest of the race? Likely more of the same, but I’m interested to see if Caruso has anything up his sleeve. He has been playing defense for two weeks but is clearly incredibly fit and in the perfect position to pounce if Bernal has any issues, physical or mechanical. One bad moment from Bernal at the wrong time could see Caruso jump into 1st, and remember, he is a better time trialist than Bernal, so even getting around a minute back before the TT could potentially be enough.
Stage 17 Preview & Predictions
The peloton will be greeted by a long 140km-long downhill coming out of their rest day, but unfortunately, this won’t be a nice, relaxing downhill. It will likely be nuclear fast, with a massive fight to get into the breakaway with the potential for a rider in the top 10 to sneak away and cause major problems for the others. To make matters worse, it is followed by a final 54-kilometers of climbing/descending/climbing.
Interestingly, this is almost the reverse of stage 17 in the 2017 Giro d’Italia, which was won by Pierre Rolland out of the breakaway.
The first few hours of racing will almost certainly be very fast and chaotic, and if a rider like Bardet, Almeida, Yates, or Formolo could get into the break, things could get really wild. They are close enough on the GC to do some damage if a gap got out of control, but not close enough that the peloton will close down every move they get into.
This final 55-kilometers is extremely hard. It features two climbs, the penultimate is 15km-long, and the final climb is incredibly steep, 11.5km at 9%.
We will almost certainly see GC attacks between 5km-to-go and the finish line. This is when the grades get seriously steep.
Bad days are most likely to happen the day after rest days (see: Stage 11), so the final climb will be the time to test Bernal for the other GC riders.
The long downhill to start the stage has a breakaway written all over it. But can the peloton really just keep letting the breakaway win? With Ineos in full defense mode, teams like EF, Astana, and BikeExchange will have to come to the front and set pace in an attempt to take time back from Bernal.
Prediction: A breakaway builds up a gap of around 12-minutes in the opening portion of the stage. EF takes up the pace going into the first climb in an attempt to get Carthy more time on Vlasov and the gap melts down on the final climb. However, Formolo stays away to win from the breakaway, while Bernal comes in ahead of the other GC contenders, with Caruso and Bardet right behind, while Vlasov drops Carthy and gets back into third overall.