Providing his back injury doesn’t once again worsen, Egan Bernal can put two minutes into his rivals in one single stage when the Giro d’Italia reaches the high mountains, according to the Colombian’s mentor.
At the first rest day, the Ineos Grenadiers rider sits atop the general classification standings with a 14-second lead to Deceuninck – Quick-Step’s Remco Evenepoel.
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Following an opening 10 days of mixed terrain in which Bernal moved into the maglia rosa following his win on stage nine, the larger mountains loom, with Saturday’s ascent of the infamous and feared Monte Zoncolan likely to be pivotal in deciding who will be crowned the winner in Milan on May 30.
Pablo Mazuera, who was the first manager to notice and develop Bernal’s cycling talents when the then 11-year-old started riding with the Fundación Mezuena, told Cycling Weekly that if Bernal’s back problems continue to be kept at bay, he will go onto win his second Grand Tour.
“It’s been a titanic struggle so far to earn time on his rivals and we all know that Egan will not have an advantage in the time trial in Milan. So he has to attack to be in a good position before that stage,” Mazuera said.
“He has to take advantage of his main ability which is the long climbs. When he starts his attack, he can win by two minutes. In just one climb. So he must take advantage of this talent he has in every stage he can.
“He knows in Milan he won’t have the luxury of being able to gain time, so he needs to be aggressive. He has got a great last man in the mountains in Dani Martínez and this will help him a lot.
“Egan is very intelligent: he manages tactics well, manages the reactions of other riders well and he is in the best team. He deals with all situations. He will take a lot of strength from what he’s done so far.”
Before the Giro there were concerns about Bernal’s back problems that have plagued him since last August, but his form so far in Italy has reassured him and the watching public that it will not derail him in his quest to add to his 2019 Tour de France triumph.
Mazuera, however, cautioned: “Nobody, even him, still knows how his injury will hold up, but we know in the high mountains he is the best climber in the world. But even the best climber in the world still has to rely on having the best physical condition.
“He’s still waiting to know if his body will permit him to advance and to show his strength after so many days and so many kilometres.”
An ongoing third-wave of Covid-19, alongside large and at times deadly protests, have rocked Colombia in the past month, and a Bernal win would help lift the national mood.
“We saw when Egan when the other day in the messages just what it meant to the people of Colombia,” Mazuera explained. “There were so many messages of gratefulness, happiness, and how his win was improving moods in this really difficult situation that we are currently living in as a country.
“With so many negative things happening, a positive issue of this calibre and size is really impactful for everyone – those who like cycling and those who don’t. We are searching for positive news and this is the news that the people of Colombia really need right now.”