THE Australian-based Team Bike Exchange’s gun rider has put himself back into contention as the Italian Giro heads for the finish line, writes JOHN TREVORROW:
THE Giro d’Italia has suddenly sprung to life big time in the final days of the three week event. Not that it hasn’t been a brilliant race with action aplenty but the race for the pink maglia rosa had looked pretty well done and dusted.
Well that all changed on the final steep slopes of Wednesday’s stage 17. The rest day obviously rejuvenated Englishman Simon Yates from the Australian-based Bike Exchange team and he launched a brilliant attack about four kilometres from the finish, along with Joao Almeida (Deceuninck Quickstep), and catapulting himself back up the standings into third position.
After missing the day’s breakaway, Team BikeExchange sent Chris Juul-Jensen, Cameron Meyer and Michael Hepburn to the head of the peloton to work to reduce the distance, and setup Yates ahead of a tough final nine-kilometre ascent.
“I attacked and I didn’t realise Egan was dropped until a bit later, I was already going full so it wasn’t like then I could accelerate any more to try and increase the gap,” Yates said.
“We missed the breakaway and I wanted to have a go for the stage today, by the time the breakaway had gone there was only 60km or so before the first climb of the day, it wasn’t a huge job for us, it wasn’t like we had to ride 200km on the front and burn all the team. They did a great job, so chapeau to them and now we will see what I can do the next days.
“I hope the weather stays like this, every day it has rained I have not had a good day, so hopefully the weather stays the same and I can see what I can do in these final days.
“I can only add that I will be attacking for that Maglia Rosa all the way to Milan on Sunday”
Matt White. Sport Director for Team Bike Exchange, said: “It was a very important day and we took some very valuable time from our rivals. Simon did a very good ride, he felt very good coming out of the rest day and when people feel good, it is always a good time to test others.
“Obviously, we would have liked to win the stage. Dan Martin had a great ride, but our other plan today was to take time on our rivals, and we did that with a lot of success.
“After the crazy first 60km to 70km settled, Simon said he felt good and then the guys did an incredible job controlling the vast majority of the stage. The race is not over until it’s over. We have a very long day tomorrow then we go into two very challenging mountain stages on Friday and Saturday before Milan.”
Yates is still 3:23 down in third place overall, but after a trying day on the Passo Giau on Monday, his race has a little impetus again, and just as Bernal’s had stalled for the very first time.
With summit finishes at Alpe di Mera and Alpe Motta in the next two days, Yates and Team BikeExchange have the terrain to test Bernal still further.
“I think all we saw yesterday is that he is human,” White said. “He is the best climber here, nobody has been able to challenge him on any climb so far in the race. Yesterday was the first time he showed any kind of weakness at all.“We also can’t forget the very solid win by Irishman Dan Martin (Israel Start-Up Nation) who shredded the breakaway at the start of the final climb but only had a one minute lead. It never looked enough with the pace of the chasing GC group but Martin was magnificent and held off a charging Joao Almeida (Deceuninck Quickstep) and Yates. Martin has now won stages in all three Grand Tours.
Bernal and his Ineos Grenadiers squad seemed in control all stage and looked set to even catch Martin, but Bernal faded when Yates attacked with three kilometres to go. The Colombian even struggled to hold the wheel of teammate Dani Martinez as Yates and Almeida rode away from them.
Aleksandr Vlasov (Astana-Premier Tech) and Hugh Carthy (EF Education-Nippo) also lost large chunks of time 1:48 and 2:30 respectively, Giulio Ciccone (Trek-Segafredo) crashed on a descent and lost 7:58.
It was an up and down day for the Australians. Nick Shultz who was the highest ranked Aussie in 18th spot 27.12 down, which is impressive when he had spent the entire race looking after Team BikeExchange leader Yates, crashed in the same group as Ciccone and Evenepoel and has had to withdraw. But it was a superb performance from Michael Storer the young Sydney rider who is coming of age. In his fourth Grand Tour he was riding up the final climb with DSM team leader Romain Bardet keeping him with the leaders until Bardet cracked about 5km to go. He nursed him all the way to the line.
The GC contenders decided to take a well earned break on Stage 18 which always looked like one for breakaways.
In the end a group of high profile riders all far enough down in the overall were given free reign.
Italian Alberto Bettiol (EF Education-Nippo) was too strong and won alone into Stradella taking hir first pro win in Italy which is surprising since he won the prestigious Tour of Flanders just a couple of years ago.
He rode clear from Irishman Nicolas Roche (Team DSM) on the final climb and then caught Frenchman Remi Cavagna (Deceuninck-QuickStep) to win his maiden race on home soil and take his team’s first stage of this year’s race.
Roche would go on to finish third on the stage after Simone Consonni (Cofidis) caught him just before the line.