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While it might appear that the Giro d’Italia GC battle is done and dusted, the story is far from over.
Egan Bernal seems to be in control of his own destiny in the pink jersey and none of his rivals currently look as though they have the legs to unseat him from his throne.
Even if that is the case when the peloton eventually rocks up in Milan for the final time trial Sunday, there is still plenty to play for, and there should be a lot of great racing over the final days of the 2021 Giro d’Italia.
Ok, it’s not the down to the line drama that we got between Tao Geoghegan Hart and Jai Hindley in 2020, but there is still much excitement to be had in the down-ballot battle for GC position and stage victories.
Of course, there is also the chance that something will go completely awry for one of the big names.
📸 Behind the scenes of Stage 16, here are the most beautiful pictures 👉 https://t.co/FZU45d9Nrj
— Giro d'Italia (@giroditalia) May 24, 2021
The final throws of the Giro d’Italia will keep the riders in the high mountains for three days, punctuated with a relatively flat stage to Stradella – the longest of the Giro d’Italia at 231km – and the final 30km chrono in Milan.
There may be alterations to Friday’s penultimate mountain test, which finishes on the Alpe di Mera. Stage 19 is currently due to take in the first category Mottarone, which was the scene of a tragic cable car crash Sunday that killed 14.
According to the Italian press, local authorities plan to ask the Giro d’Italia organizers to reroute the race to respect the grieving families and protect the site from onlookers with a morbid curiosity. It’s a request that the organizers would find hard to turn down, but it remains to be seen what changes will be made to accommodate it.
A tight contest for podium places
Potential route changes aside, there are still a lot of altitude meters to contend with in a challenging final week of racing, which should provide those up and down the GC standings chances to strike out or fade back.
Podium places are still very much up for grabs, as are positions within the top-10. After Monday’s misty traverse of the Passo Giau, just over 2:30 separate Damiano Caruso in second from Romain Bardet in seventh and another two minutes encompasses eighth in the overall standings.
With unpredictable weather over the next few days and GC contenders with form that appears to be fluctuating on any given day, few positions seem safe. Riders and teams will have to strike a balance between protecting their place and hunting down those ahead of them.
How many will choose to throw caution to the wind at the risk of losing everything?
Before the rest day, Hugh Carthy – now in third overall — and his EF Education-Nippo team showed that they’re not afraid to go all-in on the off chance the Brit might be able to overturn the GC fight. Astana-Premier Tech did the same on the run to the Monte Zoncolan on Saturday to set up its leader Aleksandr Vlasov, who is looming just outside the podium places.
Ultimately, neither of the moves worked out but sometimes you must play your chips in the hope of calling your rival’s bluff. It’s rides like these that will give us a dramatic finale of the 2021 Giro d’Italia.
Bardet does not have the firepower behind him to do what EF Education-Nippo and Astana-Premier Tech did, but the Frenchman appears to be in the ascendency after a poor first week of racing.
Sitting in seventh overall with a 5:02 deficit on the pink jersey, Bardet has a lot to gain and not much to lose. The Team DSM rider knows that he needs a hefty head start going into the Milan time trial, and if the Passo Giau is anything to go by then we can expect some fireworks from him in the coming days.
The same can be said for Simon Yates, who was left licking his wounds following a malfunction on the Giau. If he can find the form that he had on the Monte Zoncolan then we could be in for an aggressive attacking treat during the final week.
Who knows what Giulio Ciccone and Vincenzo Nibali will try to do for Trek-Segafredo? Nibali is well out of the GC fight, but he seems determined to help his compatriot to upset the apple cart and that’s unlikely to stop during this final week.
There is still a lot to get excited about in the last five days of the Giro d’Italia.
One final word…
Bernal’s ride into the maglia rosa has been dominant, but it has been far from boring. Freed by the unpredictable nature of the Giro d’Italia, he has taken the GC fight to his fellow competitors.
Watching a confident Bernal in his pomp, not afraid to put his nose in the wind and push the race rather than sit and wait too long in the wheels of his teammate has been exciting to watch.
Should he feel confident of his form, and his back, it’s unlikely that he is going to sit back and try to coast into Milan for the time trial. We can expect him to continue to challenge his rivals at every opportunity.
Of course, there is a chance that he could lose it all before Sunday, but it won’t be a boring race if he holds into it.