Giro d’Italia 2021
Egan Bernal extended his GC lead at the Giro d’Italia with a commanding performance on stage 14, blowing away his GC rivals on the Monte Zoncolan.
EOLO-Kometa’s Lorenzo Fortunato was the stage winner, staying away as the strongest of the breakaway and holding off Jan Tratnik (Bahrain-Victorious), taking a huge win for the second division outfit.
Bernal had followed Simon Yates’ attack towards the top of the Zoncolan, letting the Brit drag him up the gradient before the Colombian dropped him, overtaking the remnants of the breakaway to finish fourth and put even more time into his GC rivals.
Simon Yates was sixth, his effort enough to move him up to second place overall, a minute and a half behind Bernal as Astana’s Aleksandr Vlasov fell away on the Zoncolan and lost time.
It was a long, almost 200km trek up to the bottom of the Zoncolan, and efforts to get into the breakaway were numerous after the flag drop.
Ineos began marking moves once Jumbo-Visma’s George Bennett had made it into a large group going up the road, but the three Ineos riders working to bring them back with zero assistance from the rest of the bunch proved to be no match for the dozen or so riders clipping off the front.
George Bennett was accompanied by team-mate Edoardo Affini, second on yesterday’s stage, as well as Trek-Segafredo’s Bauke Mollema, Bahrain-Victorious’ Jan Tratnik, Nelson Oliveira (Movistar), as well as EOLO-Kometa’s Lorenzo Fortunato and UAE Team Emirates’ Alessandro Covi.
While pictures at the finish line showered ever-decreasing visibility and the break’s advantage quickly zoomed out above the seven-minute mark, Astana took it up on the front, their sports director saying before the stage that glory atop the Zoncolan would be contested by a GC contender, and the Kazakh team had Aleksandr Vlasov sitting closest to the maglia rosa Egan Bernal in the overall classification.
A nasty-looking crash brought down Nicolas Edet, the Cofidis rider forced to abandon, sitting on the kerb, his race over.
Soon, the first half of the stage was done and the riders were onto the first climb of the day to Forcella Monte Rest, a 10.5km-long, 5.9 per cent average gradient to prepare the peloton’s legs for what was to come.
Ruben Guerreiro (EF-Nippo) and Andrea Pasqualon (Intermarché-Wanty Gobert) were then in disagreement about something or other, as Astana continued to amass en masse at the front of the bunch. The effect was the break’s gap was slowly being eaten into, yet still around seven and a half minutes at the summit of the climb, Mollema taking maximum KOM points, as riders began dropping from the bunch behind.
On the descent the peloton began to break apart, Astana, Bernal and Pello Bilbao (Bahrain-Victorious) amongst those going off the front, Hugh Carthy’s EF-Nippo team leading the chase as Remco Evenepoel (Deceuninck – Quick-Step) found himself further back.
With 40km to go, the second peloton chase group got back in contact with Vlasov and Bernal, Evenepoel’s group just taking slightly longer to rejoin.
Astana continued to work in the valley leading up to the Zoncolan, the break now back to within six minutes, Edoardo Affini leading the escapees across the intermediate sprint as the Italian continued to work hard for Bennett, Jacopo Mosca also chipping in for Bauke Mollema, the two domestiques dropping away as they started the climb to the summit finish.
Jan Tratnik was the first to attack his colleagues in the breakaway from 10km out, Fortunato the next to go, off in search of the Slovenian.
The young Italian began to close in on Tratnik, as behind Bennett, Mollema, Oliveira and Covi formed a poursuivant group of four, as Ineos took over from Astana on the front of the peloton on the lower slopes.
With 7km to go Fortunato had caught Tratnik, 40 seconds ahead of the Bennett group and a further four minutes back to the bunch.
Nibali was dropped as the gaps between the groups held for the time being, riding into the fog as the gradient relented slightly, and only momentarily, before the truly hellish slopes to come.
Into the final 5km and Fortunato and Tratnik were side-by-side, holding off the chasers, Narvaez pulling off for Ineos and leaving Jonathan Castroviejo and Dani Martínez accompanying Bernal.
Covi attacked the Bennett group, who weren’t making any headway, as Fortunato also began to distance Tratnik.
2km to go and Remco Evenepoel was at the back of the GC group, where at the front Rein Taaramae tried to clip off, Martinez on the front with Bernal in his wheel.
Bernal looked around, assessing the competition before Simon Yates attacked with around 1.5km to go, the Colombian going with him.
The race was in bits now, Emanuel Buchmann the next GC rider on the road, Martinez shadowing him.
Up ahead, Tratnik swung his bike over the road in a desperate bid for momentum, as Fortunato gurned his way up the final murderous gradients to cross the line first and take a monumental victory for both himself and his team.
Tratnik held on for second as Bernal dropped Yates, picking off former members of the breakaway to finish fourth behind Covi, Yates then coming across the line 11 seconds later, the other GC riders losing a further half a minute.
Tomorrow’s 147 km stage from Grado to Gorizia is an intriguing-looking stage. Squeezed in between two days in the high mountains should mean a breakaway will go the distance, although it’s not as clear cut as that. It takes place in the Collio region between Friuli and Slovenia. Apart from one small hill, the opening 60 kilometres are pan flat, but as the race approaches Slovenia it enters a 31km circuit covered twice that will suit punchy climbers, but doesn’t completely count out the chances of sprinters like Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) who can easily cope with short ascents like these.
The circuit begins with a fourth-category climb to Gornje Cerovo (2.5km long and averaging 7 per cent), the road continuing to roll beyond it for another 15km, when the riders will return to Italian soil for a dozen or so kilometres that are flat. These lead into the second ascent into Gornje Cerovo and another full lap of the circuit.
Following the third passage up to Gornje Cerovo, the route turns eastwards, briefly entering the finish town on Gorizia, which sits right on the border between the two nations, then jumps across to Slovenia one last time for the second intermediate sprint at Novi Gorica. There’s a final climb, short but steep, which tops out about 3km from the finish line, which is sure to be used by punchy riders who are in the break or, if it’s all come back together, the bunch as a springboard for an attack.
Stage 14 result:
1. Lorenzo Fortunato (Ita) EOLO-Kometa, in 5:17:22
2. Jan Tratnik (Slo) Bahrain-Victorious, at 26 seconds
3. Alessandro Covi (Ita) UAE Team Emirates, at 59s
4. Egan Bernal (Col) Ineos Grenadiers, at 1:43
5. Bauke Mollema (Ned) Trek-Segafredo, at 1:47
6. Simon Yates (GBr) BikeExchange, at 1:54
7. George Bennett (NZl) Jumbo-Visma, at 2:10
8. Nelson Oliveira (Por) Movistar, at 2:18
9. Dani Martínez (Col) Ineos Grenadiers, at 2:22
10. Damiano Caruso (Ita) Bahrain-Victorious, at same time
12. Dan Martin (Ire) Israel Start-Up Nation, at 2:27
13. Emanuel Buchmann (Ger) Bora-Hansgrohe, at 2:29
14. Hugh Carthy (GBr) EF Education-Nippo, at 2:37
15. Romain Bardet (Fra) DSM, at 2:45
16. Aleksandr Vlasov (Rus) Astana-Premier Tech, at 2:55
19. Remco Evenepoel (Bel) Deceuninck – Quick-Step, at 3:13
1. Egan Bernal (Col) Ineos Grenadiers, at 58:30:47
2. Simon Yates (GBr) BikeExchange, at 1:33
3. Damiano Caruso (Ita) Bahrain-Victorious, at 1:51
4. Aleksandr Vlasov (Rus) Astana-Premier Tech, at 1:57
5. Hugh Carthy (GBr) EF Education-Nippo, at 2:11
6. Emanuel Buchmann (Ger) Bora-Hansgrohe, at 2:36
7. Giulio Ciccone (Ita) Trek-Segafredo, at 3:03
8. Remco Evenepoel (Bel) Deceuninck – Quick-Step, at 3:52
9. Dani Martínez (Col) Ineos Grenadiers, at 3:54
10. Romain Bardet (Fra) DSM, at 4:31