Giro d'Italia race leader Egan Bernal has argued that rather than studying crunch mountain climbs like Saturday's ascent of the Monte Zoncolan in detail, knowing the bare bones of such a daunting challenge beforehand is enough for him.
"I go by what the team tells me in the morning of the stage, I don't look at it on Strava or Veloviewer beforehand," the Ineos Grenadiers rider told reporters on Friday when asked to describe his typical approach to hard days in the high mountains.
Speaking on the eve of the 2021 Giro d'Italia's biggest mountain battle to date, Bernal said, "I know the Zoncolan has got slopes of up to 27 per cent. If you've got the legs to go for it on that kind of climb, you will, and if you don't have the legs, you won't."
Rather than risk getting bogged down in detail, Bernal's preference to look at the bigger picture became clear in other ways during his post-race interview on Friday, when he agreed that the Zoncolan summit could establish some important differences, but also insisted that there was "still a long way to go in the race".
"We all know that in the Giro anything can happen, too, and I'll need to be careful," Bernal argued. "I need to keep my feet on the ground. If there's an opportunity to take time, I won't miss it, but I need to stay calm."
The most consistent GC racer on the climbs so far, as well as the solo winner of stage 9 to the off-road summit finish of Campo Felice, Bernal currently leads closest overall pursuer Aleksandr Vlasov (Astana-Premier Tech) by 45 seconds. But for all his previous success in the Giro, he recognised that the Zoncolan will offer a different range of challenges to anything seen on the 2021 Giro before.
"I've never been there, I've read a bit about it in the Giro route book, and for sure it's a climb where if you've got the legs, you can create a big gap," Bernal said, "particularly in the last three kilometres where it's hardest. Plus there's talk of a storm and cold weather, too, so that'll make it even harder."
Bernal described Friday's pan-flat stage to Verona, ending in a bunch sprint win for Giacomo Nizzolo (Qhubeka Assos), as the easiest in the Giro d'Italia so far, "whereas all the previous ones have been hard, and I think that even if we were racing, we could recover a bit from the earlier efforts and everybody appreciates a stage like that from time to time."
However, the Colombian said that having enjoyed the calm before the GC storm on the plains of north-east Italy on Friday, he relished the idea of the Giro getting tougher again when it entered the Julian Alpine range to tackle the Zoncolan on Saturday, too.
"I like the long stages and the hard, long mountain climbs the Giro always has, too," he concluded. "And for sure on Saturday we'll see a big battle."
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Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.
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