Bradley Wiggins has predicted that Ineos Grenadiers will aim to lay down a marker and control the Giro d’Italia on stage 9. The team head into the all-important mountain stage with Egan Bernal sitting third overall and just 16 seconds down on Attila Valter’s (Groupama FDJ) maglia rosa.
Bernal has been present and accounted for in all the crunch moments so far in the race and went on the offensive on stages 4 and 6. He finished second on the latter of those two stages and, despite losing teammate and pre-race co-leader Pavel Sivakov to a crash, has raced on the front foot since the Giro d’Italia left Turin just over a week ago.
Stage 9 to the summit of Campo Felice is arguably the hardest day of racing so far in the Giro, not just because of the gravel climb to the ski station at the finish but also the five other climbs that are crammed into the 158km route.
Wiggins, who won the Tour de France with Team Ineos when they raced under Sky sponsorship in 2012, believes that the British squad will race aggressively and look to put Bernal in control of the Giro – despite almost two weeks remaining in the race.
"I just think they don’t mess around," Wiggins said on his Eurosport podcast – The Bradley Wiggins show – at the conclusion of stage 8, in which the GC riders raced conservatively on the finishing climb.
"They take the opportunities when they can. They will want to put their stamp on this race. They did in the first week with Filippo Ganna. I think they will go for it. They’ll go on the offensive. They all want to put a marker down tomorrow. It could play out like that but I think they want to put Egan in a position to show the rest of the teams that 'we’re here and we mean business'.
"I know Dave [Brailsford]. It is not for their ego or anything like that. You are safest when you’re in the peloton when you’re at the front. They like that role, given the responsibility of having to ride every day. That is ultimately what they train for. That is what the team they have got here is for."
The fly in the ointment with regards to Ineos’ plans and Wiggins’ predictions comes in the form of sensation Remco Evenepoel (Deceuninck-QuickStep), who has matched Bernal’s accelerations up to this point and sits ahead of the Colombian at 11 seconds off the race lead.
The 21-year-old Belgian hadn’t raced this year until the start of the Giro and has never gone beyond eight days of consecutive competition but Wiggins believes that there are just as many questions over Bernal’s possible fragility due to his lingering back injuries, which stem from last year’s Tour de France.
"I don’t think anyone knows, I don’t think he [Evenepoel] knows [if he can win]. He said his legs were dead. It’s the longest he’s ever been into a race now after nine months off where he broke his pelvis. It could just snap for him one day and he could lose a packet.
"They’re both vulnerable in some ways. There is an element of the unknown with the pair of them. Is Bernal’s back going to hold up for three weeks? I think Ineos have the strongest team in the mountains. I think Bernal is going to put his mark down, potentially tomorrow [stage 9]. Is Evenepoel willing to push the envelope out enough to win the race or will he be satisfied with his first Giro, after nine months away, back racing to finish on the podium? Who knows?'
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