They were once U23 rivals but Pavel Sivakov and Egan Bernal head to the Giro d’Italia as arguably the strongest one-two GC punch in the entire race. The Colombian starts as Ineos Grenadiers’ designated team leader but Sivakov believes he will have his chance to shine.
The pair’s first and only Grand Tour venture ended in disaster in last year’s Tour de France with the Russian crashing twice in the treacherous conditions in Nice on stage 1 and Bernal abandoning in the final week before Sivakov limped into Paris bloodied and weary.
A new season provides a new dawn, and optimism is high within the Ineos camp. Bernal has shown early season form in several races and Sivakov has been building up nicely despite a recent crash in the Tour of the Alps.
The pair will form part of a squad hungry to defend their 2020 Giro crown and on paper, this is the British team’s most potent ever squad for the race.
For Sivakov, who was ninth in the Giro back in 2019, this year’s race offers him the chance to demonstrate his growing progression as a stage racing talent. That’s no easy task in a team dripping with three-week authorities but the 23-year-old firmly believes that a return to the Giro, rather than a second straight Tour, provides him with the best landscape on which to show his talents.
“I think it’s good to have different options,” Sivakov tells Cyclingnews.
“Obviously, Egan will be the number one. That’s without a doubt. He won the Tour de France and many more wins than me. I know he’s number one but if I can show progression then it’s good for the team to have someone else to rely on. The racing in the Giro is more open, so having two guys is also helpful. If there’s a day when I have to sacrifice my chances for him to win the race then I’ll do it, without doubt, but there might also be some opportunities. It’s cycling and anything can happen.”
“For me, the Giro is an important part of that process for my GC development. After last year’s Tour, I first thought that I wanted to go back and have a kind of revenge but obviously, we have so much strength in our team that I would have been mountain support there. We sat down with the team and we realized that the Giro would be a much better option because there’s more freedom and more chances to do something myself. It’s a good step for me. People think I have that potential, I think I have it but now I have to prove it. But of course, the race situation can change if Egan has the jersey, but I’ll prepare for it 100 per cent.”
Having a rider of Sivakov’s talents to help him will no doubt be beneficial for Bernal.
The Colombian is one of only three Grand Tour winners heading to the Giro this year but there are unresolved questions over his long-term health owing to the back injury that scuppered his Tour chances last year. The route certainly favours the Colombian, with punchy mountain stages and terrain that encourages aggressive racing littered over the three-week parcours.
Bernal's relationship with Sivakov is surprisingly new but they know each other well.
The pair joined Team Sky at the same time after dominating the U23 ranks in 2017. That season they were almost unstoppable. Sivakov struck first winning the Ronde de l’Isard before backing that up with the overall win the Baby Giro and the Giro Ciclistico della Valle d'Aosta Mont Blanc.
Bernal was already dovetailing U23 racing with time at Andorni Giocattoli, riding events like Tour of the Alps and Tirreno-Adriatico and Under 23 races with the Colombian national team. He won Le Tour de Savoie Mont Blanc and the Sibiu Cycling Tour before taking the Tour de l’Avenir.
They raced sparingly together during their debut Sky seasons and didn’t feature on the same roster at all in 2019. That changed with a couple of races in 2020, including the ill-fated Tour, but it’s only been this season and a block of spring racing that has allowed the pair to truly spend time on the road together.
“It’s true, I’ve not actually raced too much with him. Until that recent Italian block that we did together we’ve had different programmes but the relationship is great and we can work well together. We know how one another rides and I enjoyed supporting him. It’s going to be good three weeks,” Sivakov predicts.
“There’s no ego or attention problems between us. We have a really good relationship and at our team we know that everyone can ride for everyone else. The best guy will be the one we all work for and it doesn’t matter who it is.”
Learning from the Tour
Sivakov’s 87th overall place in year’s Tour de France was an obvious setback and not what he or his team were hoping for on his debut but the former Baby Giro winner looks back on that bruising encounter as an experience in which he showed both his durability and mental resilience.
Two crashes in the opening day would have been enough for some riders to pack their bags and leave, and even a crash in the third week didn’t dampen his desire to reach Paris.
“I don’t regret carrying on in the Tour,” he says.
“I could have stopped but there was only really the Vuelta left after that and who knows how I would have recovered. I always wanted to show that fighting spirit but it was really tough. I was super tired but I don’t regret it at all. It would have been bad to have had a DNF in my first Tour and as long as I could pedal I wanted to go for it. I didn’t want to quit and I’m glad that I battled through.”
“Afterwards I was completely banged up and I was supposed to do a few more races after the Tour like Fleche Wallonne but I was going out for two-hour rides and it felt like I’d done six hours.
"I just couldn’t do anything and it was hard for me mentally and physically. During the Tour was trying to motivate myself every day and I had a good day in the Alps when I was fourth on one stage but considering what I was expecting before the race it wasn’t what I hoped for. Going into the race I was probably on the highest level that I’d ever been on and then it went nowhere after the crash. It was a really hard three weeks and I was dead after the Tour. So we decided with the team to call my season and move into a long break.”
That experience will no doubt serve Sivakov well during the Giro, where Ineos will be expected to control the race and will be tested by their rivals at every opportunity.
Whatever the outcome in Milan on May 30, Sivakov is just hoping that his performance has moved his career to the next level and that the Giro has been the next stepping stone on his path to success.
“The Giro is my first main goal of the season. I’ve been thinking about it since January," he says.
“I had a top-ten in the Giro before and that was good. To have that when you’re young is amazing. Maybe less so when you see Pogacar winning the Tour and all those races but I’ll just focus on my next steps and my preparation.
"I want to feel like I’ve made a step up from 2019. It’s cycling so you can be unlucky, so even with a crash, I felt like I was making that step in 2020 but I would like to do another Grand Tour maybe this year, with the Vuelta. But now it’s all about the Giro.”
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