With just three days remaining, Damiano Caruso now occupies second overall, yet few have couched him as a potential winner of the race. The Sicilian is the only rider within three minutes of Bernal on the general classification, but the finales at Alpe di Mera and Alpe Motta are billed as a duel between the maglia rosa and Simon Yates (3rd at 3:23).
Caruso, as ever, isn’t complaining. Since taking the reins of leadership at Bahrain Victorious following Mikel Landa’s abandon, he has repeatedly insisted that his goal was, at best, a place on the final podium in Milan. The pink jersey, by implication, has always been off limits.
Bernal’s rare sign of weakness at Sega di Ala has suddenly made that remote possibility seem a little more accessible, even if Caruso downplayed the idea that he could profit if the Colombian were to collapse in the final two days in the mountains. “It’s not in my nature to wish problems on others,” Caruso said in an appearance on RAI’s Processo alla Tappa programme after stage 18.
At the start in Rovereto on Thursday morning, Caruso had taken a pragmatic view when asked if he would go on the offensive to try to overcome his 2:21 deficit to Bernal in the days ahead.
“I’ve had a lot of messages telling me to attack Bernal and do the impossible, but it’s difficult, because it’s at the limit of my capabilities,” Caruso said. “It’s something that’s not in my range. People might want an acceleration or something from me, but I can assure them it’s very hard for me. Still, I won’t give up from here to Milan.”
After Simon Yates’ rasping attack at Sega di Ala on Wednesday, Caruso rode to limit his losses in the company of Bernal and then clipped away from the maglia rosa within sight of the line. Like everyone else in the fragmenting group of favourites, Caruso had been surprised by Bernal’s travails in the steepest, wooded section of the climb.
“I didn’t expect it, when I saw he had slowed down, I thought it was a mechanical or something. But then I understood it wasn’t going well for him,” said Caruso, though he admitted he was more concerned with holding off Yates than pressuring Bernal between now and Milan.
“I have to stay focused and I need to watch out for Yates, who has shown his strength. I’d like to defend second and defend myself from him. When I caught Bernal yesterday, I kept riding with him because I didn’t want to lose second place overall.”
With a lead of 3:42 over fourth-placed Aleksandr Vlasov, Caruso looks to have a firm hold on a podium place in Milan, even if there is still scope for tectonic shifts in the overall standings as the race reaches its fourth and final weekend. No matter how it finishes for Caruso, however, the experience of leading a team in a Grand Tour has been a novel one.
“I didn’t have a lot of choice, I just had a duty to try and the desire to do it as well,” said Caruso. “I knew my form was good. I’ve picked up the role of leader here, even if I didn’t like to define myself as a captain, but I’m living it well. I’ve got a great opportunity to grab here, and now I want to live it to the end.”
Thank you for signing up to Cycling News. You will receive a verification email shortly.
There was a problem. Please refresh the page and try again.