Stage 20 of the Giro d’Italia 2021 has the potential to be an epic. At high altitude and with numerous monstrous climbs to come, the battle for the maglia rosa is on.
On stage 19, Simon Yates launched an attack early on the Alpe di Mera which enabled the Brit to gain an early advantage over Egan Bernal. However, the Ineos Grenadiers kept their cool. Jonathan Castroviejo and Dani Martínez guided Bernal to the final 2.5 kilometres before the Colombian worked to limit the damage to Yates.
The BikeExchange rider claimed his fourth career stage win at the Giro d’Italia and although the gap to Bernal has now dipped under three minutes, he remains third overall. Bernal holds a healthy lead in pink over Damiano Caruso who is still second.
Stage 20 profile
The riders depart from Verbania and travel alongside Lake Maggiore. The initial 70 kilometres are almost exclusively flat and the only point of note is the intermediate sprint which takes place in Cannobio. Soon after this point, the riders cross into Switzerland.
Passo San Bernardino profile
The Passo San Bernardino is next and can only be described as a monster. The ascent is an astonishing 23.7 kilometres in length and averages more than 6%. The climb also features a 2km descent around two thirds of the way up, so the uphill sections are deceptively difficult. This is the perfect opportunity for Team BikeExchange to blow up the race to test Egan Bernal.
After a short descent, the next effort is the Splügenpass and it begins with 38 kilometres remaining. The climb is just under 9km in length but averages over 7%. The gradient is fairly consistent throughout, meaning there will be no let up until the top. The peak of the Splügenpass is the highest point of the stage, touching 2,100 metres above sea level.
The following descent is highly technical, particularly just after it is crested with lots of tight hairpin switchbacks tightly packed together. Some of the stronger descenders could press on here with chances to attack running out.
Alpe Motta profile
The final climb of the Giro d’Italia is the Alpe Motta. It is the shortest ascent of the stage, but after a punishing day with over 3,000 metres of climbing already in the legs, it certainly won’t feel like it. At 7.3km and 7.6%, the GC riders are provided with suitable terrain to launch any last-ditch attacks before the time trial in Milan. The climb flattens around halfway up, meaning the uphill sections actually average close to 9%. A bonus seconds sprint just 2.4 kilometres from the finish gives further incentive to be on the offensive.
Image credit: Luca Bettini / Getty Images
The final road stage of the 2021 Giro d’Italia and given the mountainous terrain, it has all the parameters to be one for the ages. Simon Yates and Damiano Caruso must do everything to close the gap to Egan Bernal if their dreams of pink are to become reality.
Ineos Grenadiers have controlled the race since Egan Bernal gained the maglia rosa on stage nine. The race looked all but over, but the Colombian has shown chinks in his armour, first on Sega di Ala, and then on the Alpe di Mera where he couldn’t follow Simon Yates’ early move. With this in mind, the Grenadiers will surely ride the race defensively to keep domestiques with Bernal at all times. Dani Martínez has played a pivotal role for Ineos so far. Bernal needs his right-hand man to be at his best again.
Simon Yates is making a late charge to win the Giro d’Italia. The former Vuelta a España winner has his eyes firmly fixed on the top step of the podium. His stage 19 victory places him within three minutes of Bernal, and Team BikeExchange will do their utmost to blow up the race for the Brit. A long-range attack is not entirely out of the question – Yates was on the receiving end of a spectacular 80km solo from Chris Froome three years ago, and although we can’t expect Yates to reproduce such a historic performance, the Brit may give it a go. It could be his only chance to gain the three minutes he needs to overturn his deficit to Bernal.
The rider that is closest to Bernal in the GC is Damiano Caruso. One of the surprise stories of the Giro d’Italia, Caruso looks set to claim his first Grand Tour podium at the age of 33. He was only a few seconds behind Bernal on the Alpe di Mera and given his position in the GC, he cannot be completely ruled out from winning the Giro d’Italia. However, given the losses of Mikel Landa, Matej Mohorič and Gino Mäder, Bahrain-Victorious will be delighted to finish on the final podium in Milan, and Caruso can be proud of his performance to this point.
The riders sitting between fourth and eighth in the general classification are tightly packed and although Alex Vlasov is well placed in fourth, the rider carrying the momentum is João Almeida. No one could have anticipated Almeida’s resurgence when he lost four minutes on stage four, but the Portuguese rider is one of the best climbers in the race right now. Although Almeida wore the maglia rosa for 15 days at last year’s Giro, he is yet to win a pro bike race in his career. Deceuninck Quick-Step haven’t won a stage at the Giro for three years either, and they will work for Almeida who will look to change that.
Tobias Foss has been flying largely under the radar since he finished third on the opening time-trial, but the Norwegian has ridden brilliantly to ninth overall. Foss isn’t a pure climber, but showed that he isn’t afraid of high altitude when he was tenth in Cortina d’Ampezzo. If he can stay in touch or even gain time back on the rivals who are just a few minutes ahead of him, he could still jump up multiple positions over the next few stages.
There are now many teams without GC ambitions who will look to put everything into the breakaway. The initial, flatter road is their opportunity to get away and build up a major lead before the tempo inevitably picks up on the Passo San Bernardino.
After Giulio Ciccone’s crash and subsequent abandon, Trek-Segafredo are one of these teams. Bauke Mollema and Vincenzo Nibali are their only options and after ‘Lo Squalo’ crashed a couple of days ago, Mollema is their best bet. This is the Dutchman’s final chance to follow in Dan Martin’s footsteps and complete the Grand Tour stage trilogy.
AG2R Citroën still have plenty to play for with a major jersey in their ranks. The maglia azzurra is held by Geoffrey Bouchard and although the Frenchman has 180 points to his name, his lead is not unassailable. Egan Bernal and Dan Martin are his closest challengers. Expect to see Bouchard amidst the early breakaway.
Koen Bouwman, Dan Martin, Lorenzo Fortunato, Michael Storer and Antonio Pedrero are some of the other key breakaway candidates.
All the momentum is with Simon Yates, and there is no doubt that Team BikeExchange will light up the race on the Passo San Bernardino to make it as challenging as possible for Egan Bernal. We could see fireworks on what is a colossal mountain stage as the fight for pink reaches its climax.
However, we are going to pick the other rider with strong momentum on his side. João Almeida has risen to eighth in the GC but won't want to stop there. He'll be given more freedom than Yates or Caruso, so could slip away without an immediate reaction from the leading contenders. We are picking João Almeida to win his first pro bike race on stage 20 of the Giro d'Italia.
Cover image: Luca Bettini / Getty Images