As the Dolomites and Alps loom ever closer on the horizon, Giro d’Italia leader Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers) has said that he is “not yet thinking about the Zoncolan", the race’s toughest summit finish climb.
Due to be tackled on stage 14 on Saturday, Bernal told reporters after stage 12 that he has never been up the climb, although he knows the last three kilometres “are very hard. Everybody’s talking about it.”
However, he insisted that he is not yet thinking about the Zoncolan yet, and he is preferring to go on “the day by day. For now I’m thinking about tomorrow [Friday],” which for all it is completely flat, Bernal views as one “where there are still risks.”
Nor was Bernal thinking only about Friday’s stage, either. Guided home by teammate Jhonatan Narvaez, Bernal finished securely in 17th place on stage 12’s drawn-out but largely uneventful trek through the lower ranges of the Apennine mountains of Tuscany and Emilia Romagna, a day which he described as “a tough one."
With over 3,700 metres of vertical climbing on stage 12, Bernal said that it had been no easy task for any of his teammates to keep order all day, and he singled out Italian duo Salvatore Puccio and Filippo Ganna, in particular, for their hard work at keeping the break of the day at a respectable distance.
The one brief flare of GC action came when Guilio Ciccone (Trek-Segafredo), eighth overall, tried a brief attack on the final third category of the day, and his teammate and double former Giro d'Italia winner Vincenzo Nibali first bridged across to his compatriot and then went for it alone on the technical, partially rain-soaked, descent to Bagno di Romagna.
Even while making full use of his legendary defending skills, Nibali gained a scant seven seconds on the Ineos Grenadiers-led bunch. But his lone late attack, if reaping largely-symbolic rewards, was a reminder that, even when nursing a fractured wrist and lying over four minutes down, as Bernal put it, the Italian can never be ruled out of the picture.
“He’s a rider with a lot of experience so he’s one of those riders who can make you win or lose the Giro. I’ve got a lot of respect for him,” Bernal said when asked what he had made of Nibali’s late move.
“After the descent there was 4km of flat to the finish and I still had teammates with me. So when he started taking the descent hard I knew he would gain a few seconds advantage but I didn’t want to take the risk of falling for that. We let him go and we managed the gap. But he’s certainly a great rider and we have to pay attention to him.”
Rather than follow Nibali’s example and attack before the Dolomites, Bernal said his best option on stage 12 was to take things calmly for at least one more day. He buttressed his argument with two reasons, the first being the terrain in the run-in on stage 12, and the second, that with the mountains fast approaching, there was no need to test himself and rivals at this particular point in the game.
“The last climb was hard at the start, but then it flattened out quite a bit and there were 4 flat km after the descent, too,” he reasoned. "So given the levels of tiredness and with the Zoncolan the day after tomorrow [Saturday], attacking wasn’t the best thing.
"If you have the legs, it’s better to wait for the Zoncolan,” he concluded - his words the confirmation that Bernal may not be thinking about the Zoncolan yet, but given its importance and at this stage in the game, he can’t wholly ignore it, either.
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