Saturday, May 29, 2021

Biased Blow-by-Blow - 2021 Giro d’Italia Stage 20


You know how bike race announcers bite their tongues when a doper mops up the asphalt with his competitors? Or they leave it unsaid when a rider is just being a douche? Well, I don’t. If  my approach bothers you, go find some unbiased coverage from a responsible journalist. Otherwise, read on for the climactic final mountain stage of this year’s Giro d’Italia. It’s gonna be a doozy, with three Category 1 climbs!

Giro d’Italia Stage 20 – Verbania to Alpe Motta

As I join the action, the riders have a whopping 83 kilometers to go, almost all of it uphill. They’re just beginning the feared Passo San Bernardino, which is over 30 kilometers long and climbs over 5,000 feet! There’s a breakaway, of course, but it’s got only 3:41 on the peloton, and they don’t look to be absolutely hammering. I mean, check this out:

How hard could he be going if he’s taking a leak? Didn’t anyone tell him breakaway riders are supposed to be full of piss and vinegar? Why’s he getting rid of it? Maybe his directeur sportif told him, “If you get in a break, you have to just empty yourself,” and the rider misconstrued him.

They’re interviewing Matteo Tosatto, the manager of the Ineos Granadiers.

INTERVIEWER: Are you scared absolutely shitless by the resurgence of Simon Yates, and the way your boy Bernal has seemed to falter in the last couple mountain stages?

TOSATTO: No, no, we are completely confident. Our program is well defined and our team has done what’s necessary in preparation to put up the right power numbers, wink wink, nudge nudge, say no more, say no more, am I right?

INTERVIEWER: Bernal rode with panache in the first two mountain stages—maybe a bit too much panache, and isn’t it pretty clear he’s starting to fade now?

TOSATTO: Well, his panache was inappropriate, because we’re the team that gradually beats everyone to death in the most boring fashion possible, but his ability to recover is almost literally superhuman. With our “marginal gains” program, trust me … fate will not jam.

Okay, that was unfair. Tosatto was speaking Italian, and I don’t speak a word of it. I was just guessing at what he said, or what he’d say if he were being less elusive than his role would obviously require him to be.

The peloton is starting to shrink as the climbs wears on. This far into a Grand Tour, everyone is just so tired. Here an early breakaway rider is caught, even as the gap increases to those still ahead. Look at Team BikeExchange setting tempo on the front for their leader, Simon Yates. Yates sits third on GC, 2:49 behind Bernal and just 20 seconds behind Damiano Caruso (Bahrain Victorious) who is second overall.

The breakaway is down to four riders. I love it when the broadcaster puts their names on the screen so I don’t have to look them up.

Oh, I’m sorry, were you starting to chafe at my suggestion a bit ago that Bernal, that fine, upstanding young man, might be doping? Well, let’s look at his performance on Monte Zoncolan:

For those who follow these kinds of numbers, a watts per kilogram (w/kg) value over 6.3 says a rider is almost certainly doped. Not that I necessarily worship at the altar of that theory … take it how you like.

The breakaway’s lead is coming down as Team DSM drives the pace for their leader, Romain Bardet, who lost a lot of time early in this Giro but has been rising in the GC and now sits sixth at 7:32. He’s just, 22 seconds behind Hugh Carthy (EF Education-Nippo) overall.

Getting back to whether or not Bernal is doping, consider his time up the Zoncolan vs. that of Gilberto Simoni, who hailed from the Lance era when pretty much everyone was lubed. It looks a bit suspicious that Bernal went faster. But honestly, I cast my aspersions mainly because Team Ineos isn’t going to change its stripes. They’ve been the heir apparent to US Postal’s doping tradition since the Sky days. I’m convinced their program is alive and well, especially since they never even admitted guilt for Froome’s positive test. I mean, if McDonald’s came out and said, “Our food has always been shit but we’re going upscale now, all organic and grass-fed beef,” that would be slightly more believable than McDonald’s saying, “Our food has always has been really good for you, and it still is!”

This break is so doomed. They’ve dropped another minute and their gap is just 1:42 with over 60 kilometers left to race.

Man, look at this brutal course!

The break is now under a minute ahead as they crest the Passo San Bernardino and dress up for the big descent.

The wind is blowing pretty hard and with all that snow it must be frigid. Let’s contemplate for a moment that baseball games tend to be canceled if it even rains. And there’s no wind chill factor in baseball. Just sayin’.

Geoffrey Bouchard (AG2R Citroen Team) takes fifth place in the KOM, sprinting away from the peloton. In all likelihood he’ll seal his overall KOM win today.

The Team DSM guys are hammering the descent and have a bit of a gap.

So, to catch you up on what’s happened since my last report, Bernal showed uncharacteristic weakness on Stage 17, when he chased down an attack from Yates and then suddenly seemed overextended and relied heavily on his team to limit his losses. He conceded almost a minute to Yates that day as Dan Martin (Isreal Startup Nation) took the stage win. And then yesterday Yates attacked again, and Bernal didn’t respond, instead having his team drive tempo to control the damage. Bernal had a pretty good poker face during that stage, especially compared to João Almeida (Deceuninck-QuickStep) whose face was contorted with pain, his tongue all hanging out. But Almeida took 17 seconds out of Bernal in the last 500 meters or so, which tells the real story. Bernal was very bullish in his post-race interview, saying he was really pleased with his performance and not worried at all about maintaining his GC lead. But look at his expression in this unguarded moment during his warmdown:

Surely he’s been cagey in interviews so as not to give comfort to the enemy.

And now the Team DSM guys catch the break.

Ineos lines out the front, bringing the gap down from 20 to 17 seconds. They’ve still got six or seven guys in the somewhat depleted peloton.

It’s starting to rain as Ineos drives through the valley. Hmm, I wonder how many cobblestoned sections there are ahead…

Cripes, I’m actually feeling chilled just watching this. BRB, gonna go grab a wool cap.

We didn’t see any attacks from GC contenders on the first pass, of course, but surely its sheer length wore them down for what’s ahead. We could well see a big attack or two on this next one, the Passo di Spluga (or Splügenpass in German, which seems to be the preferred name among these announcers, who are saying it almost constantly, as though they have Tourette’s or something).

The break is actually increasing their advantage. Of course they won’t stay off with 37 kilometers still ahead, but this could be a launch pad for a major attack by Bardet or Caruso if either or both are on a good day.

Ineos still controls the peloton. In the white young rider’s jersey, behind his Astana-Premier Tech teammate, is Aleksandr Vlasov who sits fourth on GC, 6:11 behind Bernal. He’s faded a few times during this Giro but has been riding better lately, losing just four seconds to Bernal yesterday. Fun fact: Vlasov changed his first name from “Aleksander” to “Alexsandr” to save weight.

With just over five kilometers left in the climb, the break has taken their lead out to 39 seconds. That’s still not much with 34 kilometers to go, but the trend is interesting. Things get more unpredictable at the tail end of a stage race, when riders are so tired. Pello Bilbao (Bahrain Victorious) and Michael Storer (Team DSM) are doing most of the work for their leaders, Caruso and Bardet.

Yates looks pretty comfortable as always, but Carthy just behind him looks like he’s suffering pretty badly.

OMG, look at this crazy climb!

Ineos is down to three riders: Bernal is now counting on Jonathan Castroviejo and Dani Martinez, both of whom are extremely solid. (Martinez was especially impressive yesterday and in Stage 17 when Egan had his crisis of confidence.)

Wouldn’t it be amazing if on the final climb this break were still ahead and Yates could attack and bridge up to them solo? Then Bernal would really have to react, no more of this keep-the-gap-down crap.

The break is within the final kilometer of the Splügenpass summit. This descent is gonna be gnarly, with the wet road. The riders take on fuel.

The peloton is over the summit now. Look at this road. Look at these conditions. No pressure, guys!

They were in Switzerland, by the way, and are now back in Italy. Has it ever occurred to you how boring American sporting venues are, with the same size court or field for every single event? Has it ever struck you how little our ball-sport athletes have to worry about? Honestly, it’s amazing so many sports fans can find anything to excite them.

The peloton is basically shattered, as Vlasov has attacked and Ineos is forced to chase hard.

This is working pretty well for Yates … Caruso et al are doing all the work in the break, forcing Ineos to do all the work in the chase, while Yates just sits on. Assuming the break gets caught, Yates will be perfectly positioned for the massive attack he knows he has to mount. Today, of course, is his last chance. Tomorrow’s time trial shouldn’t produce giant gaps between GC leaders … none of these climbers can TT for beans.

Here’s the profile of the final climb. It’s not that long or steep, but the 13% section will provide a great place for a big move.

The peloton has swelled in size … lots of dudes caught back up on the descent. Ineos couldn’t go all that fast because Martinez is kind of a pussy. (On the descents, though … only on the descents!)

Just before the final climb begins, Bernal takes a bottle. Kind of odd timing … I wonder if he’s feeling a bonk coming on? That would be pretty dramatic. More likely they’re some miracle elixir in that bottle. (Okay, I jest…)

Castroviejo completely detonates! You can’t tell from the still photo, but he’s literally barely moving. It’s practically a track stand.

Now Storer has blown and is instantly caught by the peloton.

Up in the break, Bilbao pulls off as well, and Caruso pats him on the shoulder in gratitude for his awesome pace-making.

Caruso puts the hammer down!

Bardet takes up the cause. Their lead is dropping with Martinez drilling it at the front of the peloton.

Almeida is gapped and fights to maintain contact.

Caruso flicks his elbow to get Bardet to come through, but Bardet does not. Maybe he’s completely on the rivet.

Bernal eats a gel. Could he have waited too long to eat? Surely this is just wishful thinking on my part.

It’s rare to see Yates’s face because he’s always sitting in. But when you do, you wonder about his giant white beak. That’s what it looks like because he always has one of those stupid tape things on the bridge of his nose. Like that could possibly improve breathing, as if a clogged nose really matters when your throat is wide open. Snake oil, I tell you. I wonder if Yates is an anti-vaxxer too. I guess I’m not feeling very charitable because I keep waiting for him to attack and he does nothing. He’s running out of time if he really wants to put Bernal under pressure and take major time.

Martinez is just crushing it. Almeida and the others are gapped, only Yates can hang. The gap to the break is down to just 24 seconds. Even if they hang on for the stage win, there won’t be a GC shakeup unless Bernal surprises us.

Bardet is either really dying or he’s just hanging Caruso out to dry so he can take the stage win—if they stay away.

I like Caruso. He looks like a real working man. He takes three bonus seconds at the intermediate sprint. And now he drops Bardet!

Back in the GC group, Yates is now starting to lose the wheel as Martinez continues to crush it! Look at Yates’s funny nose! It’s like he’s got a big band-aid on it!

Yates is definitely getting dropped!

Caruso is taking the gap back up with 1200 meters to go! And Bernal still hasn’t had to face the wind for a single second today!

Bardet is getting reeled in. Not his day. Not his Giro.

And now Martinez finally swings off and Bernal starts to ride.

Caruso approaches the line, gives a little shake of the head, disbelieving that he, a career domestique, is about to win his first pro race here, in this pivotal Giro stage. And now he’s got the stage win!

Bernal crosses the line, alone again, same poker face he always has. I’ll bet he’s a lot of fun at Ineos offsites and pro cycling mixers.

Here’s the stage result. Bernal ended up taking 26 seconds back from Yates, plus a few bonus seconds, while only conceding 24 seconds to Caruso.

And here’s the new GC. Not much change and Bernal heads into the final day tomorrow, the time trial, with about two minutes … probably enough. (Though that’s what Primoz Roglic surely thought before the final Tour de France TT last year…)

They’re interviewing the manager of Bahrain-Victorious. “It wasn’t really a plan, Caruso had an opportunity and took it,” he says. The interviewer responds, “Was it your plan for your COVID mask to fall off your nose again and again during this interview?”

Now they interview the Ineos manager again.

INTERVIEWER: What do you make of this sudden rash of COVID masks slipping off people’s noses?

TOSATTO: We’re all tired. Tired of masks, tired of journalists, tired of everything.

INTERVIEWER: What about wiping your ass? Do you ever get tired of that?

TOSATTO: Yeah, totally! On a morning like this, with a crucial stage ahead, I’m nervous as hell and running to the toilet again and again, and it’s just wipe, wipe, wipe! It never ends!

INTERVIEWER: Have you considered a bidet?

TOSATTO: Actually, I have, ever since everyone started hoarding toilet paper a year ago. I really am thinking about it. This may be the year.

It’s taking a while to set up the podium, I guess, because the coverage is just replaying key moments of the race again and again and then putting the results back on the screen. Okay, now they interview Bernal.

INTERVIEWER: Ayo, that stage looked brutal, bro.

BERNAL: For reals, with that break still at 40 seconds before the last climb, I got my director in my ear straight whylin’ like they was gonna jack my Giro!

INTERVIEWER: The action was getting’ straight-up hyphy for a bit there. But your boy Martinez was killin’ it and basically salted their move with a quickness.

BERNAL: Martinez is such a baller. With him on the front, suckas like Yates and Almeida were always gonna get pwned.

INTERVIEWER: Word, Martinez is straight gully. The break though, those dudes were rollin’ deep. That didn’t make you just a little butt-hurt?

BERNAL: No way man, they’s a buncha bustas, frontin’ off the front like they was trill. That shit was dunzo almost before it started. Fools, playin’ like the Ineos crew isn’t totally off the chain as usual.

INTERVIEWER: Man, you wasn’t even dolo until under 1K to go. Did you think after sittin’ in all day Yates might pull a bitch move at the end?

BERNAL: Naw man, that dude be triflin’.

INTERVIEWER: Way to lack down the smack.

BERNAL: Thanks but I’m gettin’ hella cold, I gotta shake the spot, go chillax in the van.


BERNAL: Lates!

I’ll confess I took some liberties there vs. recording everything verbatim. Bernal kind of made me do it by being so reliably boring.

Oddly, the coverage seems to be wrapping up with no footage of the podium presentations. And they wrap up with this random woman, just like last time. Does the director have stock in a cosmetics company or something?


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Saturday, May 22, 2021

Biased Blow-By-Blow - 2021 Giro d’Italia Stage 14


If (in a normal, non-pandemic year) you were to watch the Giro d’Italia in a sports bar in Italy, you’d certainly expect the fans to be biased towards the local riders. Meanwhile, if you were to do the same in the U.S., the bias would be toward baseball or football even if it were the queen stage, and the bartender would just grunt at you if you begged him to turn one of their 50 screens to the race. But don’t worry, you’re in good hands here. I’m biased towards clean riders, if any, and those showing grit and panache. So sit bold upright in that straight-backed hair, grab a bottle of Cytomax, and settle in for my blow-by-blow coverage of the surely pivotal Stage 14 of this year’s Giro, finishing atop the famous Monte Zoncolan.

Giro d’Italia Stage 14 – Citadella to Monte Zoncolan

As I join the action, there is the inevitable Hendrix perm. I’ll bet you thought I was gonna say inevitable breakaway! Nope, not me, I’m not quite awake enough for that, I’m “talking dog farts,” as they say. Well, okay, you got me, it’s the inevitable breakaway. They’ve got about eight and a half minutes with 67 kilometers to go, as they start the penultimate climb, the Forcella Monte Rest, which looks pretty brutal on paper but is only a Category 2. How could it be, when it’s 10 kilometers long and is steep enough to require switchbacks like these?

The break is like eight guys including two from Trek-Segafredo, one of whom is Bauke Mollema, a very solid rider who is somehow all the way down in 39th, close to 42 minutes back. But then, that’s the kind of Giro this has been … if you’re not in the top ten, you’ve been completely blown out the back on one stage or another. For example, Romain Bardet (Team DSM), once a hopeful, is in eleventh but like three and a half minutes back, with only two of seven mountain stages completed.

Speaking of blown out the back, here’s a guy who lost a fair bit of time when few expected it: it’s Remco Evenepoel of Deceuninck-QuickStep, widely considered to be the biggest threat to current race leader Egan Bernal of the Ineos Grenadiers.

Evenepoel looks to me like the kind of rider who would lose time in the mountains, because he’s not utterly emaciated and twiggy like a proper climber. And yet, his recent tumble in the GC—he fell from second to seventh—was in the Strade Bianche stage which was mostly flat (just a couple of Cat 3s). This course had a lot of dirt sections that clearly spooked him. You see, he wasn’t on a gravel bike. It’s commonly known that anything but perfect asphalt requires a very special kind of bike with fat tires and … shoot, I’m no expert, but I know gravel bikes have loads of special features which is why you need to go right out and buy one. But for some reason the racers don’t get them, and Evenepoel was a bit hesitant on the dirt sections, especially when descending. The Ineos Granadiers, and other teams with GC aspirations, seized on this and drilled it all day, hanging poor Evenepoel out to dry with just one teammate to pace him. It was a glorious stage, even if I’d prefer to see Evenepoel thrive.

In the breakaway, Jacopo Mosca (Trek-Segafredo) drives the pace.

They’re interviewing Emanuel Buchmann of Bora-Hansgrohe, who has had a great Giro so far and sits sixth overall at 1:50.

INTERVIEWER: Emanuel, I was just reading on albertnet that you’ve had a great Giro so far.

BUCHMANN: Well, that Dana guy … he would know, wouldn’t he?

INTERVIEWER: Is it true you were named after a French softcore porn film?

BUCHMANN: Why does everyone ask me that? I don’t know what you’re talking about. Can we please talk about the bike race?

INTERVIEWER: Sorry, yeah, so … what kind of gearing will you run for the Zoncolan?

BUCHMANN: 34 in the front, 32 in the rear.

INTERVIEWER: Will you attack?

BUCHMANN: Not in that kind of gear, obviously. Hell, dudes use to ride this with a proper 42-tooth inner ring. I’m apparently just hoping to hold on.

INTERVIEWER: Does it concern you that while you’re standing here being interviewed, the peloton is going up the road?

BUCHMANN: Damn, good point. I’d better head out.

I hope you gather from that interview how fast and loose I play it with my reporting. It’s really hard to keep up with the dialogue while also catching you up on previous stages, and sometimes I miss a word, phrase, sentence, or most of the interview. That bit about the 34/32 is true, though. Weird.

The break reaches the summit of the Monte Rest. Vincenzo Albanese (Eolo-Kometa) shrugs off the KOM, instead prepping for the descent.

I took a little break and now the peloton reaches the summit, with Astana-Premier Tech forcing the pace for their leader, Aleksander Vlasov, who sits second on GC, only 45 seconds behind Bernal.

On the descent, which is so twisty and technical it’s hard to get a worthwhile snapshot for you, the peloton totally splits! Dudes are taking advantage of their giant balls to open up a gap! The front group has Bernal in it, no less … if you squint you can see him on the back there.

Now this small Maglia Rosa group, with at least two Astana riders, pushes their advantage over a small climb.

Farther back, Evenepoel is actually in the third group, like twenty seconds back, paced by a teammate.

I feel kind of bad for Evenepoel … he had a bad crash last year which has probably shaken his confidence. But that’s bike racing … you have to be good at everything, all the time. It’s not like football where a player can be good at exactly one thing and make a ton of money at it. Imagine if they made a place kicker throw a pass now and then, or asked the QB to block a little. What a bunch of pussies.

Now the second group has made contact with the first. Deceuninck-QuickStep hammers the pace to bring the gap down for Evenepoel.

And now they make contact, to Evenepoel’s great relief (and perhaps embarrassment).

So, no huge crisis for Evenepoel but I’ll bet he wasted a lot of energy he’d rather have held on to with the Zoncolan looming. I’m sure he’s dreading this climb, taking on a real climber like Bernal with his fearsome and decidedly “not normal” Ineos team. Poor Evenepoel. He’s gotta be so nervous. Talk about pucker-factor ... I’ll bet you couldn’t pull a needle out of his asshole with a tractor (to paraphrase the writer Craig Johnson).

It’s not just Ineos that Evenepoel has to worry about, though. Astana seems to be going really well in this Giro, they’ve been on the front a lot today, and they’ve still got at least five guys in the peloton.

Oh man, they’re showing conditions at the finish … looks pretty brutal, especially if it rains.

So, the announcers are saying this side of the Zoncolan hasn’t been ridden in over a decade and has sections of over 15%, hence Buchmann’s gearing choice. So if anyone in this break survives, it won’t be because of the six minutes they have right now—it’ll be because they’re great ungodly godlike men. I’ll share a few more names of breakaway riders: we’ve got George Bennett (Jumbo-Visma), his teammate Edoardo Affini, Alessandro Covi (UAE Team Emirates), Lorenzo Fortunato (Eolo-Kometa) and … to hell with it, I can’t keep them all straight.

A few kilometers before the Zoncolan starts, Affini takes the intermediate sprint and it looks like he’s suffered mightily in the process.

Affini is a complete badass, by the way. In yesterday’s pancake-flat sprint stage, he took a glorious flier right toward the end and just about took the win. Only Giacomo Nizzolo (Team Qhubeka Assos) came by him, with a perfectly executed sprint (to take his first win after eleven second-place finishes, heartwarmingly enough). Here’s a fun fact: the guy who took fifth, Fernando Gavia (UAE Team Emirates) lost his saddle like 1.5 kilometers out and finished the race without it. He was not sanctioned for the loss of equipment, by the way, which just shows how much laxer the laws are over in Italy. True story: I was pulled over by a cop for riding with my young kid on my top tube. The law is that the number of riders on a bicycle must equal the number of saddles. No joke. (I didn’t get a ticket, BTW. As soon as I saw the squad car I said, “Alexa, start crying, quick, or we’re both going to jail!”)

Mosca takes the lead, pacing Mollema.

As the break threads through a darling little village at the base of the Zoncolan, we get almost the complete (pared-down) roster.

Looks like Mosca blew. The break’s lead is holding up pretty well—actually, it’s gone up a bit—so it could be a few of these guys will stay away. Kind of depends on how much trouble the GC riders give Bernal.

Incidentally, Gianni Moscon (Ineos) appears to still be in the peloton supporting Bernal. This is impressive, as he had a fearsome crash on a descent the other day, trying to keep up with Vincenzo Nibali (Trek-Segafredo). Good to see he was (apparently) unhurt.

In the break, Jan Tratnik (Bahrain-Victorious) kind of rolls off the front.

I dunno, I think Tratnik looks more like a NASCAR driver than a cyclist.

Doesn’t he kind of look like the guy who would buy you beer at the bowling alley?

As the break approaches the 10K banner, it’s kind of coming apart. If you look closely you’ll see that Lorenzo Fortunato (Eolo-Kometa) has dropped the others (he’s right at the banner).

The gap grows between Fortunato and the rest of the break. He’s got Tratnik almost in sight.

Back in the peloton, Moscon takes the front for Bernal as they cross under 10 kilometers to go. Note Mascon’s bandages … could be worse of course.

Looks like Vlasov, in the white young rider’s jersey, doesn’t have many teammates helping him. I think a couple are sucking wind at the back but they’re probably done. Ineos, of course, has five guys still (not including the team medic who is making this all possible).

Moscon blows up, pulls off, and is now going backwards.

Up ahead, Fortunato catches Tratnik! They’re way ahead of the other breakaway riders but we don’t have numbers yet.

Luis Leon Sanchez (Astana-Premier Tech) detonates and goes out the back, leaving Vlasov further isolated.

Fortunato takes the lead. They’ve got 38 seconds on the chasing group of four.

Ineos is still setting tempo. The second rider there is swinging his arms around so as to get a full-body workout. Or maybe he’s shaking blood into his hands, or gesturing (“What have I done?!”) Also of note is that Simon Yates (Team Bike Exchange), who has been at the very back of this group all day, has moseyed up the side to have a quick peek at what’s going on.

Oh, dear. Nibali, a former Giro winner, is sawed off. He’s showing his age for sure.

Evenepoel is still in the lead group but toward the back. He doesn’t look very happy.

Another Ineos rider blows.

The wind is blowing sheets of mist over the road. Looks like pretty miserable conditions, though really it’s mainly the riders making things miserable for one another. Damn, I’m getting cold just watching. Poor, poor me.

So leading the shrinking GC group we’ve got a couple of Ineos henchmen, then Bernal, then Vlasov, then Giulio Ciccone (Trek-Segafredo), who sits 8th on GC, 2:24 down on Bernal.

The chase group isn’t making any progress. Look at all that snow!

One of these dudes is already in his lowest gear. What the photo doesn’t show, though, is that he’s spinning it at a pretty high cadence.

In the chase group, Covi attacks. Too late, surely.

And up the road, Fortunato attacks Tratnik!

He quickly gets a decent gap!

Evenepoel (#91) is toward the back of the peloton, not looking good!

Fortunado is really suffering! And now a douchebag spectator runs alongside Fortunato, giving him tactical tips or perhaps trying to turn him on to Dianetics, and actually bumps into him, knocking him sideways! Fortunado looks absolutely stricken! Unbelievable!

Back in the rapidly dwindling GC group, Daniel Martinez (Ineos Granadiers) continues to pummel everyone, Bernal tucked safely in behind him. Buchmann is hanging tough. Vlasov looks like he’s on the rivet.

OMG, Evenepoel is going out the back! Poor dude!

And now, what’s this!? Yates, who has been loitering in the back all day like he always does, comes out of nowhere and attacks, for the first time in this Giro, and possibly in his entire life!

It’s a totally legit attack, too! None of this halfhearted “my directeur sportif said I have to do something so I’ll check that box” kind of bullshit you see so much. Only Bernal can hang with him!

Up toward the finish, Fortunato has only 600 meters to go and still a solid gap!

Yates and Bernal leave the rest of the GC riders for dead! They’re gaining massive time!

Fortunato looks like he’ll get this, but he also looks utterly horrified! He’s staring into a deep existentialist void, in uncharted emotional territory because this is a guy who (the announcers tell me) has literally never won a bike race in his life! He’s probably thinking, “I know I’m going to screw this up, but how?!”

Tratnik is utterly dying and starts weaving like a drunk! The center cannot hold! Weird pink shapes are appearing, hovering above the road … or is that me hallucinating? Do you see them too?

Fortunato is all alone! Not just on the road, but in the universe! There are fans, sure, but they don’t know him!

A wall of mist blows through, yanking Fortunato’s soul from his body and diffusing it across the entire universe!

The young man’s soul is returned to him, just in time for him to cross the finish line in victory!

Fortunato is delighted, but also emotionally obliterated! His psyche has undergone trials that baseball players, cheerleaders, and fire marshals have never dreamed of!

Behind, Tratnik has managed to get his bike pointed in the right direction again, and slogs toward the line, the wet wind yanking atoms from the surface of his body.

Tratnik crosses the line, utterly ruined. His suffering is absolute.

Returning to the GC battle, Bernal has attacked and dropped Yates! Now he overhauls Bennett!

As he approaches the line, Bernal blows by Mollema, who looks back as if to ask, “Where the hell did he come from?”

Bernal crosses the line and starts the real clock: how much time will he take from the others, padding his GC lead?

Vlasov is dying! Poor guy!

Vlasov finishes … he’s lost at least another minute to Bernal.

Here is the stage result … notably missing from the top ten is Evenepoel. The lead group exploded toward the end and I’ve completely lost track of him.

They’re interviewing Tratnik. “I’m actually very happy,” he says, “but you probably can’t tell, with my eyes closed like this. I’m trying to open them—really, I am—but I just don’t have the energy. Sorry guys, I’d love to hang out with you, maybe buy you a soft pretzel, but I’m seriously about to pass out. I’ll catch you later.”

The press staffers are freezing their asses off so they’re running around interviewing everyone they can. They have collared Nibali, surely hoping for some kind of tantrum since he totally blew chunks today. But he appears tranquilo and has very little to say. “Yes, I suck now,” he says offhandedly, “but my retirement account is in great shape, thank you very much.”

Now they interview Fortunato. “Yes, I was in race, and it go, ah, uphill, and I attack, and … very very happy. Legs very good. But I left my body. I was outside it. I … I can’t do this in English. [Switches to Italian; interviewer translates.] Today, it was just a tomato. It was a pancake. Well, more like a bun. It was a tight bun. Very tight bun, with kernels.”

I’m not going to bother recording any more of that interview because it’s clear the interviewer’s Italian is no better than mine and he’s just making shit up. The nerve of that guy!

Okay, here’s the next ten placings on the day. Besides Vlasov, Evenepoel was the big casualty, giving up another 1:30 on Bernal.

They’re interviewing Bernal now. “Astana was on the front a lot today … were you surprised?” the interviewer asks. Bernal replies, “Yes, they were going really hard, and I was surprised. It was kind of cute, really, them pretending they had a chance, when of course their utter vanquishment has been practically scripted. I mean, think about it: my super-domestique Martinez took over half a minute out of Vlasov today. No one can stop Ineos except maybe … oh, shit, I just realized I’m late for the doping control!”

Now Fortunato mounts the podium, which is bizarrely set at the absolute highest, most exposed location possible with a frigid wind whipping through. Those poor podium ladies … there little ankles must be frozen. Fortonato has been presented with a weirdly colored helmet mounted to a plaque. He looks happy though.

Now begins Fortunato’s frozen-fingered grappling with the wire on the champagne bottle, like Bernal struggled with (the only thing Bernal has struggled with, I hasten to add) a couple days ago. Why don’t the race staffers do most of the untwisting ahead of time? I tell you, pro cyclists don’t get enough respect.

Fortunato takes a good, long drink of the champagne. It’s impressive that he can hoist the magnum for so long, in fact … most climbers can barely lift it past shoulder level.

Now Fortunato consults the concierge on directions to the restroom. “Man, that champagne is going right through me!”

Okay, this is a bit embarrassing. I totally missed Bernal’s podium ceremony because he zipped out there with the pink jersey already on, then fled for the warmth of his team van before I could get the screenshot. He didn’t even wait around for the champagne, so they’re trying to find him now to bring him back.

I got a nice shot of him fighting with the champagne but you don’t need another one of those. Amazingly, his lofting of the flowers and stuffed animal was so brief, I missed it again. He’s quicker off the podium than he is attacking the peloton!

Here is the new GC. Yates moves up to a career-high second overall. That said, he is scarcely faster than Bernal in a time trial, same as Damiano Caruso (Bahrain Victorious), and Vlasov is almost two minutes down on GC with four more mountains stages to come … so Bernal doesn’t appear to have much competition.

Eurosport closes the race coverage with a close-up of this random woman. Why her? Well, why not? After all, she bothered to do her mascara.

Come back next Saturday for more biased blow-by-blow coverage, as the race tackles the grotesquely oversized Passo San Bernardino, over 30 kilometers long with a vertical gain of 5,000 feet!

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