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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