For a moment, Damiano Caruso (Bahrain Victorious) dared to go where he insisted he could not on this Giro d’Italia. A little over six kilometres from the summit of Alpe di Mera, Simon Yates careered from the front group and there was no reaction from Egan Bernal or his Ineos Grenadiers team. Caruso looked once, thought twice, and then decided to go for it.
His unzipped jersey flapping open, Caruso pressed his way across the gap to Yates and earlier attacker João Almeida (Deceuninck-QuickStep), bringing George Bennett (Jumbo-Visma) with him. This quartet opened a lead of a dozen seconds over Bernal, and for a dizzying couple of minutes, one wondered if Caruso might end the afternoon in the maglia rosa.
On Thursday, Caruso had gently dismissed the prospect, insisting that he had neither the explosiveness nor the strength to attack Bernal’s pink jersey, and repeating once again that a podium place was the full extent of his ambition on this Giro. That once-in-a-lifetime chance remains resolutely within touching distance, but after stretching this far, Caruso tried to reach out a little further at Alpe di Mera.
“It was right to do it and try to hang tough,” Caruso said when he paused in the finish area before descending to his team bus. “I tried to follow Yates and maybe I made a mistake in doing that. Who knows? But I had to do it for myself and for everyone who asked me to try.”
Caruso wasn’t burnt by the experience. When Yates kicked again with 5.5km to go, Caruso realised the Briton was travelling at a speed that he simply could not match, and he reverted to his previous approach, dropping back to the Bernal group.
He continued to cut his cloth carefully in the finale, opting not to track the pink jersey’s acceleration with 2.5km remaining. Caruso’s prudence paid off, as he closed to within four seconds of Bernal within sight of the finish. The Italian crossed the line in fourth place, 32 seconds down on Yates. In the overall standings, he remains second overall, 2:29 down on Bernal and now just 20 seconds ahead of Yates.
“Honour to the strongest,” Caruso said when asked about Yates’ effort. “He was stronger than everyone else on the climb and he made the difference, so congratulations to him.”
Caruso’s second place overall is now under threat from the resurgent Yates, but his hold on a podium spot remains firm, with a healthy buffer of 3:42 on fourth-placed Aleksandr Vlasov (Astana-Premier Tech). His pedigree against the watch means that he can surely look with optimism, too, to the final time trial in Milan, even if he was reluctant to do so just yet.
On Saturday, the Giro takes in its final mountain stage, climbing the Passo San Bernardino and Passo dello Spluga ahead of the summit finish at Alpe Motta.
“We’ll do the summit finish tomorrow and then on Sunday evening, we’ll draw conclusions,” said Caruso.
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