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Simon Yates: It would take something very special to win the Giro d'Italia

Simon Yates (BikeExchange) and Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers) at the Giro d'Italia
Simon Yates (BikeExchange) and Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers) at the Giro d'Italia (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

Variations circulate on a similar theme on the second rest day of the Giro d’Italia. Romain Bardet (Team DSM) suggested that Egan Bernal was untouchable. Damiano Caruso (Bahrain Victorious) felt that the Ineos Grenadiers rider couldn’t be beaten. Aleksandr Vlasov’s directeur sportif at Astana-Premier Tech, Giuseppe Martinelli, reckoned that the Colombian would need to suffer “not just one crisis, but two or three” to lose the Giro from here.

Simon Yates’ rest day thought didn’t stray far from that consensus. Buoyed by Tour of the Alps victory, the Team BikeExchange rider arrived at this race as a favourite alongside Bernal, but with five stages remaining, he finds himself in fifth overall, 4:20 off the maglia rosa.

Giro history has been liberally punctuated by remarkable, strange and downright bizarre happenings deep in its third week, but it is increasingly difficult to picture how a rider of Bernal’s pedigree could squander this match point, particularly given the strength of his team.

Even when Ineos Grenadiers showed rare signs of collective fatigue on Monday, Bernal’s own dominance over the Passo Giau was such that he could even casually cast away a few seconds of his lead by slowing to remove his jacket ahead of the finish in Cortina d’Ampezzo.

“The win is going to be very difficult. It would need something very special and very unexpected to happen for me to win, I think,” said Yates. “If that chance does arrive, I’ll try to take it, but it would be very surprising. I’ll fight for the podium as long as I can.”

Yates was the last rider to stitch together a body of work similar to Bernal’s across the opening two and a half weeks of the Giro, when he claimed three stage victories in the maglia rosa in 2018 and then defended his lead robustly in the Rovereto time trial. The ending to that story hardly needs repeating, but Yates, like Caruso, Bardet et al, doesn’t see any signs of vulnerability in Bernal.

“He’s obviously shown on every occasion that he’s the best here,” said Yates. “Bernal is head and shoulders above everybody at the moment, it’s difficult to see him lose his grip on GC now.”

After a subdued start to the Giro, Yates showed flickers of better days with a pugnacious showing on the Zoncolan that briefly lifted him to second overall and into the position of Bernal’s prime challenger. He is, despite his current deficit on the general classification, arguably the rider who will concern Bernal the most in the final week, even if Yates suggested his primary concern would be to compete with Vlasov, Caruso and Hugh Carthy (EF Education-Nippo) for a podium spot in Milan.

“I think the podium is still not that far away and I’m only two seconds away from fourth. For me it’s not a bad performance,” said Yates, currently 40 seconds off  Carthy’s third place. “There’s still a lot to fight for and changes to come. Hopefully, I can make a difference and get on the podium.”

On the Passo Giau on Monday, Yates was surprisingly distanced from the pink jersey group even before Bernal launched his stage-winning attack nearer the summit. He came home 11th on the stage, 2:37 behind Bernal and more than two minutes down on Caruso and Bardet.

“My numbers were good. OK, they could have been better, but we were also climbing at a high altitude so I was actually quite happy with the performance. I would have preferred to have been a bit closer to those guys who are fighting for the podium but I did my best and that’s all I can do,” said Yates. “I’ve not been the best in cold weather this year, and that’s just how it goes. I’m doing my best and that’s all I can do.”

And yet Yates added that he would have preferred to take on the full 5,700 metres of climbing through the Dolomites that had been originally planned. Conditions should be more amenable when the Giro resumes on Wednesday with the first of three summit finishes that populate the final phase of the race. After the Sega di Ala on stage 17, the Giro tackles Alpe di Mera and Alpe Motta on Friday and Saturday, respectively.

“The only one I know is tomorrow [Sega di Ala – ed.], which is actually one of the most difficult climbs I’ve done for a long time,” Yates said. “I think you can see some very big differences there tomorrow.”

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