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Egan Bernal: The Giro d'Italia isn't only a battle with Remco Evenepoel

Egan Bernal and Remco Evenepoel at the start of stage 10 at the Giro d'Italia
Egan Bernal and Remco Evenepoel at the start of stage 10 at the Giro d'Italia (Image credit: Getty Images)

Every second counts at the Giro d’Italia, yet the gaps will be in minutes come the third week. Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers) seems to be carrying the maglia rosa with those two opposed ideas in mind, but he retains the ability to function, as evidenced by his speed of thought in the intermediate sprint at Campello sul Clitunno on stage 10.

With the day’s break already caught, bonus seconds were at play with 18km to go and Remco Evenepoel (Deceuninck-QuickStep), who has made a virtue of impatience, was always likely to contest them. Ineos had prepared for the eventuality by dispatching Gianni Moscon and Jhonatan Narvaez to sprint for the bonuses, but Bernal also arrived at the front on the wheel of Filippo Ganna.

Indeed, Ganna’s strength was such that he and the maglia rosa briefly threatened to drift clear, but Deceuninck-QuickStep brought them back within sight of the line, as Evenepoel unleashed his sprint. Narvaez succeeded in coming around the Belgian to take the maximum three bonus seconds. Evenepoel’s second place netted him two seconds, while Bernal picked up a second for his third place. As the Giro breaks for its first rest day in Umbria, Bernal’s lead over Evenepoel contracts slightly to 14 seconds.

“It was nothing much,” Bernal said afterwards. “We had said that Gianni Moscon and Jhonatan Narvaez would do the sprint, but I came up from behind on Pippo’s wheel and, well, it’s easy to be on the front when you’re on his wheel. I didn’t have to make any big effort and I was able to pick up a second. Maybe I shouldn’t even have done it because the Giro won’t be won by one second, but we’re focused. On the big climbs, the gaps will definitely be in minutes, so we have to be in front there.”

The putative duel between Bernal and Evenepoel sharpened into focus over the first week of the Giro, with each man seeming to allay doubts regarding the injuries that had ended his 2020 season prematurely. Bernal moved ahead of his young rival – and into the pink jersey – by winning atop Campo Felice on Sunday, but the margins are still tight. Their joust for the bonus seconds on the road to Foligno may have felt like a foretaste of the second half of this Giro, though Bernal downplayed its psychological significance.

“I don’t see it like that,” he said. “In the end, the battle for me isn’t only with Remco, there are lots of strong riders at the Giro with a lot of experience, and all within a minute of each other. The Giro isn’t only a mental battle. The strongest rider will win and that’s it. [A duel with Evenepoel] is more something that maybe journalists want to see, but I don’t think that’s the case. At least I don’t see it that way.”

And yet, for as long as Evenepoel is the closest man to Bernal on general classification, the race will continue to be couched in that way, even if riders like Aleksandr Vlasov (third at 22 seconds), Hugh Carthy (6th at 45 seconds) and Simon Yates (9th at 56 seconds) linger with intent. The race could also take on an entirely different hue, of course, after Wednesday’s stage across the strade bianche to Montalcino.

“Remco is a great rider and he will be one of the strongest,” said Bernal, who praised his own team as the strongest in race after his first day in the pink jersey. “Having this jersey makes us dream, it gives us a bit more strength. But we have to be careful because we have more responsibility. We’ll try to stay focused because there’s still half the Giro to go, and we want to get to Milan with this jersey.”