As the Giro d'Italia enters its third week, French contender Romain Bardet's steady GC progress accelerated sharply on Monday in the Dolomites, even if the Team DSM leader only actually discovered he was the runner-up of stage 16 after crossing the finish line.
"I'm second?" the Frenchman asked when told by reporters that only solo winner Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers) had beaten him to the finish in Cortina d'Ampezzo. "Ok, I thought that [Vincenzo] Nibali was still ahead, too. That's not so bad at all then."
After reflecting briefly, he added, "To be honest I'm really pleased, I had really good feelings today on the bike. I've done a lot of work with the team away from the races and it's great to see the hard work and the results coming through now for me."
After a fairly anonymous start to the Giro, Bardet's second place, his best result in the race so far and in one of its toughest stages, too, certainly represented a big step in the right direction for the Frenchman in the Italian Grand Tour.
Part of the favourites' group on the Passo Giau, TV images were not available because of the weather but when race radio reported that Bardet had begun chasing down Italy's podium hopeful, Damiano Caruso (Bahrain Victorious), it was clear he was in the thick of the action.
Third across the summit and 1:15 down on Bernal, Bardet caught Caruso on the descent, where the two managed to reduce the Colombian's advantage to 28 seconds by the finish.
For Bardet, who made his Giro debut as DSM co-leader alongside last year's runner-up Jai Hindley – who has since abandoned – second place in Cortina d'Ampezzo has seen the 30-year-old continue his steady progress up the GC rankings.
Following a very low key 91st in the opening time trial in Turin, Bardet's upward curve over the last fortnight has now reached the point where he jumped from ninth to seventh on Monday, 5:09 down on Bernal.
"There was a really high pace at the foot of the climb, to the point where there were just five or six of us in the GC group," Bernal explained, referring to the point where EF Education-Nippo had shredded the front group fo contenders.
"Then Bernal took off, it wasn't possible to catch him, but I had him at 300 metres for a while and Caruso was about 10 seconds ahead."
The trio of overall contenders caught and passed the remnants of the break, including Nibali, Davide Formolo (UAE Team Emirates) and Antonio Pedrero (Movistar), before heading onto the Giau's technical, fast 17 kilometres of downhill to the finish.
A renowned descender, Bardet caught Caruso halfway down, and the two worked well together to limit the gaps on Bernal, patting each other on the shoulders as they crossed the line in Cortina d'Ampezzo in mutual thanks.
If the stage win remained beyond his grasp, Bardet's strong performance has certainly given him a timely boost to his morale for the last part of the Giro after a first fortnight where he was consistent, but largely flew under the radar. Now, though, Bardet has truly broken cover, and with three summit finishes remaining, the chances for him to shine are there for the taking.
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