Despite six weeks away from racing, Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers) showed no signs that he was feeling ring-rusty or out of form in the opening time trial of the Giro d'Italia, as he completed the flat, fast time trial in Turin with a solid 40th place.
Bernal finished slightly towards the outside rim of the overall favourites' times, 39 seconds back, one second slower than Simon Yates (Team Bike Exchange) and Hugh Carthy (EF-Education First) but slightly ahead of Vincenzo Nibali (Trek-Segafredo) and Mikel Landa (Bahrain Victorious).
Making a long-awaited debut in the Giro, two years after it was initially scheduled, Bernal highlighted his satisfaction at finally starting an event he grew to cherish during his time in Italy in his first years as a professional rider.
He also emphasised that while he had lost time to some rivals, his favoured terrain in the mountains yet to come, there were plenty of opportunities to pull it back. His mood was even upbeat enough for the young Colombian to make a joke about the injury that caused him such problems in the 2020 season.
"I did fine, I suffered a little bit at the end because I went very hard at the start, this is not my speciality but I'm pleased overall," Bernal said.
"My legs hurt more than my back, so that's a good thing. And I'm very happy to be here at last at the start of the Giro d'Italia."
Bernal talked to reporters so soon after completing the course and wheeling to a halt in Turin's Corso Moncalieri boulevard that he said he had no idea how he had performed compared to the other favourites.
"But at least I felt good and we'll see the time afterwards. But this is just the beginning of the race, in any case," he pointed out.
When told that he was close to the time clocked by Simon Yates (Team Bike Exchange) Bernal recognised it was inevitable he and the Briton would be on the back foot in time trials – and on untechnical, ultrafast courses like the one in Turin, that was arguably even more the case.
For Bernal, in any case, Saturday was largely about damage limitation, proving to himself that he had not lost his competitive edge after six weeks training, mainly at altitude and without any racing, and also a first test inside the context of a race of how much progress his recovery from his back injury was making.
On all three counts, to judge as much from his cheerful demeanour and willingness to talk immediately after finishing as from what he said, Bernal ended the day with a tick in each box.
"We are not specialists, so for sure we will lose some time in the TTs, in a course like this one here we just try to go full gas," he argued.
"But we'll get back that time in the climbs."
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Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.
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