Damiano Caruso (Bahrain Victorious) may have spent a career largely in the service of others, but he is showing no signs of imposter syndrome as he moved up to the second overall at the Giro d’Italia on stage 16.
Scanning the faces around him in the dwindling pink jersey group on the final haul up the Passo Giau, Caruso saw men every bit as haunted and tired as he was himself. Monday’s Dolomite tappone was shortened after the intercession of the CPA, shorn of the Fedaia and Pordoi, but the day still provided a robust test, not least because of the miserable wet and cold weather conditions.
When maglia rosa Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers) accelerated with a little over 3km left to the summit, Caruso was one of the few even to countenance trying to follow. He limited his losses better than anyone at the top, where he trailed Bernal by 45 seconds, and he had Romain Bardet (Team DSM) for company as he gave chase on the descent.
They reduced their deficit to 27 seconds by the finish in Cortina d’Ampezzo, where Caruso placed third. In the overall standings, the Ragusa native is up to second overall, 2:24 behind Bernal, and with a lead of almost two minutes fourth-placed Aleksandr Vlasov (Astana-Premier Tech).
“The race went like we expected. It's true it was shortened, but there was high intensity all day,” Caruso said. “I felt good in the last climb and I was looking at the faces of the other contenders and I understood in this moment I was almost the strongest, except for Bernal of course. I tried to follow him but I couldn't follow him, then I just do my own tempo and do the best until the end.”
On the corresponding stage two years ago, when the Gavia was excised from the route due to the weather conditions, Caruso had found himself in the winning move on the Mortirolo, but he sat up in order to wait for his then leader Vincenzo Nibali.
This time out, in the absence of the injured Mikel Landa, Caruso is leading the line for Bahrain Victorious. In Grado on Sunday morning, Caruso had been asked about the differences between racing a Grand Tour as a gregario and as a leader.
“For GC riders, there’s no quiet day, every stage has its dangers,” said Caruso. “There’s also a bit more responsibility on my shoulders, but the team has been great at helping me to handle that pressure.”
In the Dolomites on Monday, that help amounted largely to ensuring Caruso was wrapped against the elements ahead of the final reckoning up the Giau. As directeur sportif Alberto Volpi explained outside the team bus afterwards, this was a day for tenacity rather than tactics.
“There wasn’t much by way of tactics today. The tactics were decided by the Giau and the rider’s legs,” Volpi said. “You had to get to the top of the Giau well covered with clothes and well fed. That was the tactic, basically, and you could get that wrong, too.”
Some riders did, including Vlasov, who lost contact with the pink jersey group after getting tangled up while removing his jacket at the base of the Giau. Others, like Simon Yates (Team BikeExchange) were unable to follow the forcing of Simon Carr on behalf of his EF Education-Nippo teammate Hugh Carthy.
Caruso reaches the second rest day in second place overall, and in the box seat to claim a place on the podium in Milan, even if there are three summit finishes remaining, at Sega di Ala, Alpe di Mera and Alpe Motta.
“We’ve had an important first match today, but there three big ones to come,” said Volpi.
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