Damiano Caruso laughed. The toughest opponent on Monte Zoncolan wasn’t Egan Bernal or Simon Yates, he said past the finish line, but the relentless slopes of the mountain itself. The Sicilian had entered stage 14 of the Giro d’Italia expecting to concede ground to more explosive riders and so it proved, but he withstood their onslaught better than anyone else to remain third in the overall standings.
“They’re certainly not gradients suited to me but despite that, I managed the situation well,” Caruso said. “On that kind of climb, it didn’t make much of a difference if you held the wheel in front or not, and I managed to go up at my own pace, and I think that was the right choice.”
Caruso began this race as Mikel Landa’s key gregario but he has been thrust into a leadership role at Bahrain Victorious – or at least a free one – since the Basque crashed out in the opening week. He moved into a podium slot after a strong showing on the gravel at Montalcino in midweek and he stayed there thanks to another striking display on hostile terrain atop the Zoncolan.
A diesel by nature, Caruso knew that Yates and Bernal would hit notes that he simply couldn’t reach when they danced away into the mist with 1,200 metres to go. Undeterred, he continued at his own pitch all the way to the summit, limiting his losses better than any of the other podium contenders.
Caruso placed 10th on the stage, 2:22 down on winner and early escapee Lorenzo Fortunato (Eolo-Kometa), but just 39 seconds behind the maglia rosa Bernal. He also gained more than 30 seconds on Aleksander Vlasov (Astana Premier Tech) and almost a minute on Remco Evenepoel (Deceuninck-QuickStep). In the overall standings, Caruso remains third, 1:51 off Bernal and 18 seconds behind Yates.
“In the end, it was only Bernal and Yates ahead of me, and the fact that they can drop me on a climb like this isn’t something I just discovered today: that’s normal,” Caruso told reporters past the finish line. “But I’m happy with what I’ve done. I think I’ve shown that in any case, I can compete.”
In the heart of Tuscan wine country on Wednesday, Caruso described a podium finish in Milan as a “dream,” but the landscape of this Giro is shifting. On the side of a snow-banked road on a mountaintop in Friuli on Saturday, he acknowledged that a place in the top three in Milan was a little more tangible now.
“Yes, I think so,” he said. “For me, this performance shows an excellent condition, because on this kind of climb, I’d normally lose a minute or a minute and a half. I managed the situation well. Only two riders made the difference, and the others were behind me. I’ll go to bed tonight happy, and so will the team, I think.”
The 33-year-old Caruso has been a professional since 2009, and his treasury of experience includes top 10 finishes in all three Grand Tours and stints in the service of leaders like Ivan Basso, Tejay van Garderen and Vincenzo Nibali. The Ragusa native has seen it all before during his career, but Saturday was his first time up the Zoncolan, albeit from the – marginally – gentler Sutrio side.
“I’ve never done the other side of the Zoncolan, but I think it’s all like the final 3km of this one,” Caruso said, and then laughed: “I hope I never have to do it.”
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