During Tuesday's rest day, La Gazzetta dello Sport touted Aleksandr Vlasov (Astana-Premier Tech) as the Giro d'Italia's third man. The Russian will have to be bumped up the billing after stage 11 to Montalcino, where he came closer than anyone to resisting maglia rosa Egan Bernal's overwhelming attack on the final haul up the Passo del Lume Spento.
Vlasov was ultimately unable to match Bernal's fearsome pace at the end of a tumultuous stage but did succeed in limiting his losses better than fellow contenders like Simon Yates, Hugh Carthy and, of course, Remco Evenepoel, reaching Montalcino 23 seconds down on the pink jersey.
Although there is still almost half the Giro d'Italia and the bulk of its climbing to come, Bernal has marked himself out as the prohibitive favourite to carry the pink jersey to Milan. Vlasov is now the only rider within a minute of Bernal in the overall standings, lying in second overall at 45 seconds.
"On the last climb, I tried to follow the attack of Bernal but it was not easy. However, I am pretty satisfied with my performance as I know that the team and me, we did our best," said Vlasov. "I am happy to pass through this stage without any trouble and now I would like to concentrate on the next hard stages as all the big mountains are yet to come."
In that interview with La Gazzetta, Vlasov parroted his mentor Giuseppe Martinelli's view that the Giro would only truly begin on the Zoncolan on Saturday, but he was well aware of the significance of a mistake on the sterrato.
This was one of just two stages Vlasov had reconnoitered before the Giro, though that preparation didn't prevent him from being caught on the wrong side of the Ineos-enforced split on the first sector. He recovered well, however, and he rode with assurance on the dirt roads that followed, even if – like everybody else – he was unable to stay with the relentless Bernal in the finale.
"The group split on the first section, but the team did all possible to close the gap quite fast and later I was always up there in front, following all other favourites," said Vlasov.
"The [team] did an amazing job and thanks to that we had a good day on this very difficult stage. Well, I did all I could today and the legs worked pretty well all day long. It is true that with the dust we had on the gravel sections it was not easy to breathe, but I managed to pass through it."
In his post-stage press conference, Bernal was asked if his chief rival was now Vlasov, given that Evenepoel, so impressive in the opening ten days, had dropped to 7th at 2:22 after a difficult outing on the gravel. The Colombian responded that he counted Vlasov as one of many rivals, but he will surely have noted the Vyborg native's consistency on each of the race's major rendezvous thus far.
Vlasov was forced to abandon his debut Giro d'Italia in 2020 through illness on stage 2 last October, but he recovered quickly to place 11th at the Vuelta a España the following month. "I discovered what it is to ride a Grand Tour and I saw how my body reacted. In the third week, I was still quite good and I was recovering well," he told Cyclingnews on the eve of the Giro.
Vlasov is positioning himself as Bernal's most immediate rival, but he must tread carefully, at least when it comes to disposing of his bidons. In a communiqué after the stage, the commissaires announced that Vlasov had been fined 500 Swiss Francs and penalised 25 points on the UCI rankings for littering. More pertinently to his pink jersey challenge, he risks a one-minute penalty in the event of a second offence.
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