Bernal: ‘I wanted to show I am back in the game’
With a few hundred meters left on Monday’s stage 16 of the Giro d’Italia, Egan Bernal was making his way towards a Grand Tour stage win while wearing the race leader’s jersey for the first time yet in his young career – but the bright pink of the maglia rosa was partially hidden beneath his rain jacket.
With a wet stretch of cobbles between him and the line and with six stages still to go in which his rivals might try to claw back time, Bernal could have put his head down and powered through to the finish hunting every possible second. Instead, he took his hands off the bars, calmly took off his jacket, and stuffed it into the back of his jersey.
Going over the highest point in the race solo and holding on to take an impressive stage win wasn’t enough. Bernal wanted to make a statement, and he did, crossing the line resplendent in pink.
“It’s not every day you win a stage in the Giro with the maglia rosa,” Bernal said afterwards. “I wanted to show it and show respect for the maglia.”
Bernal may have come into this Giro as a top favorite, but it seemed like a more open race than you’d typically expect with a rider just two years removed from a Tour de France win in the field. Indeed, the fact that the 24-year-old Colombian is even racing the Giro at all is a testament to how dramatically his back issues have affected him since the cycling season resumed after its hiatus in the middle of the 2020 season.
Instead of spending May training to take on Tadej Pogacar and Primoz Roglic in the battle for yellow, Bernal came to Italy to make his Giro debut. The decision made some sense at the time; despite his credentials, Bernal’s form was a question mark at the start of the season and the Ineos Grenadiers have a surplus of riders who would be clear GC leaders at other teams all hoping for Tour spots.
In a little more than two weeks of racing at the Giro, Bernal answered those questions about his form and his health. And while it was already pretty clear even heading into stage 16, Bernal wasn’t going to turn down another opportunity to put his strength on display.
“I wanted to do something special,” Bernal said. “I wanted to show I am back in the game.”
It wasn’t simply a display of watts per kilogram, either. Bernal took the emphatic victory at the of a grueling day in the Dolomites, where the weather was bad enough to force organizers to reroute the stage. In crossing the line first, Bernal had shown that he was more than a good climber. He was a fighter too.
“It was hard of course but when the race is hard because of the weather you need to be hard also with the mentality,” he said. “I had the mentality at the beginning of the race and I kept it. It was a day to suffer and we did it.”
Heading into the second rest day, Bernal has a 2:24 lead in the general classification to Damiano Caruso, with third-placed Hugh Carthy more than a minute behind that. There are still some tough stages ahead, but this is Egan Bernal’s Giro to lose now, and the way he rode on Monday, it’s hard to imagine him letting it get away.