The 2021 Giro d’Italia route may have only just been publicly announced but Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers) has already begun his build-up and route reconnaissance as he prepares to race the Italian Grand Tour for the first time.
Bernal seemed happy to see a mountainous route when the full parcours was unveiled on Wednesday, suggesting "it’ll be a great Giro” in a short video message sent to host broadcaster RAI.
The 24 year old Colombian rider started his study of the 2021 route at the weekend by travelling to Italy to study little-known stage 19 Alpe di Mera mountain finish in the Alps north of Milan.
Ineos Grenadiers have confirmed that Bernal will target the Giro d'Italia, while Geraint Thomas, Tao Geoghegan Hart, and Richard Carapaz focus on the Tour de France. New signing Adam Yates will be targeting the Vuelta a España.
Bernal hasn't been ruled out of the Tour, but a decision on whether he goes there or to the Vuelta a España will be made depending on the outcome of the Giro.
The decision to steer Bernal away from the Tour, where he was victorious in 2019, comes after the Colombian abandoned last year's race with a back injury, from which he's still recovering. Although the Giro, in theory, gives him less time to reach full strength, team manager Dave Brailsford suggested the 24-year-old, who has spoken of his desire to target the Giro in the past, needed a breath of fresh air.
"When he arrived in Europe then at our team, he had a big smile every time he raced. The thing you noticed first with Egan was his big smile, and he was an aggressive and charismatic racer. It's very important that he finds that joy of racing again," Brailsford said.
Bernal was based in Italy for two years when he first moved to Europe and seem keen to get his Grand Tour career back on track via the Giro d'Italia.
“It’s a race I’ve wanted to ride for a long time, since the first year I came to Italy to ride for the Androni team. I’m very happy to be riding it this year,” Bernal said, in the video message.
“I’ve already been to Italy to see a stage, the mountain finish to Alpe di Mera. It’ll be a hard stage but I can’t wait to ride it because it’ll be a great Giro.”
The 2021 Giro d’Italia – which will run from Saturday May 9 until Sunday May 30 – starts in Turin with a 9km individual time trial and includes six mountain finishes, seven other hilly stages, and almost 47,000 meters of climbing before a final 29.4km time trial to central Milan on stage 21.
The first time mountain finish of the Alpe di Mer, near the Swiss border, comes on stage 19 at the end of a 178 kilometre route with 3,400 metres of ascent. The stage departs from Verbania and climbs the Mottarone midway through before heading into the Alps and toward the steep 9.7 kilometre ascent of Alpe di Mer. It comes but just before what could be among the toughest days of the race with stage 20, Verbania – Valle Spluga-Alpe Motta, ending the time in the mountains with a route that includes some 4,700 metres of climbing over 164km.
Bernal’s focus on the Giro d’Italia comes after the rider last year had to abandon his title defence at the Tour de France after two weeks due to back pain. He had to undergo months of rehabilitation to address the problem, due to a long-standing condition stemming from one leg being longer than the other, and in December he said he was finally riding without pain.
Bernal returned to racing at the Étoile de Bessèges at the start of this month and went on to the Tour de La Provence where he came second behind teammate Ivan Sosa on the first big climb of the 2021 season to Chalet Reynard on Mont Ventoux.
He is expected to ride an Italian race programme in preparation for the Giro d'Italia, starting with next week's Trofeo Laigueglia, then Strade Bianche and Tirreno-Adriatico. He is likely to ride the Tour of the Alps in late April as his final stage race before the Corsa Rosa.
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