VALLE SPLUGA-ALPE MOTTA, Italy—Egan Bernal looks set to add the Giro d’Italia title to his Tour de France win after maintaining a significant lead at the end of the penultimate stage, which was won by Italian rider Damiano Caruso on Saturday.
It was a first-ever victory in a Grand Tour for Caruso, who also all but secured second place overall, and it came on one of the most difficult stages. Stage 20 had been given the maximum difficulty rating of five stars.
The 164-kilometer route from Verbania to Valle Spluga-Alpe Motta featured more than 4,200 meters of vertical gain and three top-category climbs, including the final ascent to another summit finish, where Caruso soloed to victory.
The Bahrain Victorious rider shook his head in disbelief as he rounded the final corner before zipping up his top and raising his hands across his head as he crossed the line.
“I thought about a thousand things in the last meters before the finish line, all my sacrifices, my training, and all the work done by my teammates,” Caruso said.
“We rode in an exemplary way today, Pello Bilbao in particular did an incredible job and he played a fundamental role in this victory. Today I realized a dream, I think I am the happiest man in the world!”
Bernal finished 24 seconds behind and has an overall lead of one minute and 59 seconds over Caruso heading into the final day’s time trial in Milan on Sunday. Bernal is 3:23 ahead of third-place Simon Yates after the expected attack from the British rider failed to materialize.
Bernal, the 2019 Tour de France winner, was helped heavily throughout the stage by Ineos Grenadiers teammate Daniel Martinez, who paced him brilliantly up the final climb and finished the stage in third, 35 seconds behind Caruso.
“Today we rode very well as a team, we controlled the race in the best possible way,” Bernal said. “My teammates did a super job…I had good legs and I knew I had teammates around me but when Caruso attacked, with his advantage increasing, I admit I was worried.
“Now I am confident for tomorrow’s last stage, I have a two-minute lead in the GC and I will give everything in the time trial.”
The Giro finishes in familiar fashion. The individual time trial is an entirely flat, 30.3-kilometer route that ends in front of Milan’s famous cathedral.
An emotional Matteo Tosatto, meanwhile, was congratulated by rival Matt White of Team BikeExchange after stage 20, but the Ineos Grenadiers sports director refused to celebrate victory.
After a tense final two mountain stages, where the Colombian looked weaker than his rivals, Tosatto did not want to know about preparations for post-race celebrations.
“As I always say, the Giro ends in Milan, not before. We need to stay focused with our fingers crossed,” he insisted to Eurosport in Italian, surprising journalist Andrea Berton, who asked if he was being superstitious.
“No, this is not a one-day race, the tension builds and builds and a lot of people want to have a say on things but I want the team to stay focused for Sunday’s time trial,” Tosatto explained.
“People have been preparing lots of things. I don’t want to start a polemic but I want to be clear: the Giro ends when you cross the finish line in Milan,” he added.
Tosatto is a veteran domestique of the sport, having raced for Fassa Bortolo, QuickStep and Tinkoff in a 20-year career. He was perhaps a surprise choice for a role at Ineos but has emerged as a leading sports director who can combine the team’s hard-nosed pragmatism with Italian passion.
Tosatto directed Tao Geoghegan Hart to victory in 2020 and this year will surely see Bernal triumph in Milan on Sunday, despite his warnings.
Nobody really knows if or how Bernal’s back problems have affected his Giro d’Italia. He was on form from the start, dispelling most doubts, he gained time on his biggest rivals on key finishes but then faded at the very end, exposing potentially huge weakness only for Ineos to step in, ride like the dominant super team they are and help Bernal hold his nerve and his race lead.
AP with Cyclingnews