Remco Evenepoel (Deceuninck-QuickStep) has bounced back with a vengeance from his defeat on stage 4 of the Giro d'Italia as the Belgian proved more than capable of staying with Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers) on the stage 6 summit finish at San Giacomo.
Bernal launched several searing, sustained accelerations in the last kilometres of the San Giacomo climb as the freezing rain teemed down after another day with atrocious weather conditions in the water-logged 2021 Giro d'Italia. But each time he did so, Evenepoel was able to keep on his wheel.
Finally fourth on the line at the summit, just outside the time bonuses but the only rider to stay with Bernal along with Dan Martin (Israel Start-Up Nation), Evenepoel has climbed to second overall. He regained six places compared to his GC position on Tuesday, 11 seconds down on new leader Attila Valter (Groupama-FDJ). Evenepoel is still ahead of the Colombian, too, who is now third at 16 seconds.
In the process, he has regained 17 seconds on Hugh Carthy (EF Education-Nippo), Simon Yates (Team BikeExchange) and Aleksandr Vlasov (Astana-Premier Tech), reversing the situation of stage 4 where he lost 11 seconds to the Bernal-led group, as well as Vlasov and Carthy.
The final gaps in the Giro will likely be measured in minutes, not seconds, but as Evenepoel said, placing second on GC rather than having the leader's jersey was a "perfect position" to be in. And his morale, too, much strengthened after his second encounter with the Giro's climbs.
"I feel really happy with how I felt in the final climb," Evenepoel said. "During the stage I was really cold so I was really suffering, shivering because of the temperature and rain, but the guys supported me very well.
"At the bottom of the ascent, there were still five or six or maybe even seven, I don't remember very well. But the guys always kept riding around me and reminding me to eat and drink, and in the end, the energy was still there on the final climb."
Evenepoel said on Tuesday that after so long away from racing, more than eight months since a pelvis fracture at Il Lombardia, he had found it hard to handle the steep final ascents like the Colle Paserino, which averaged 10 per cent over four kilometres. Thursday's ascent was also ranked a second category but was much longer and steadier, even if the rain made it a very difficult climb.
"The climb didn't look hard, but everything much harder because of weather," he reflected. "Then in the end perfect situation for us, we took second on GC, but it was not the biggest goal to take jersey today."
Evenepoel's teammate Pieter Serry had a narrow escape after he was struck by a Team BikeExchange car on the climb, but as Evenepoel put it, "luckily he is OK, and we can all look forward towards tomorrow."
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