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Egan’s castle of the day before

16/05/2021

Stage 9 wove through the ancient settlements of the upper Sangro river, inhabited since the upper Palaeolithic period, from 36 000 to 10 000 years ago.

The start town, Castel di Sangro, was founded in the 7th century BC, Alfedena (km 4.5) dates back to the 6th century BC. At Cocullo (km 69.9), in ritual that has been included in UNESCO’s list of intangible human heritage, a statue of St Dominic is covered in live snakes and paraded through its streets. The original snake rite make go back thousands of years. 

At Castel di Ieri (km 89.40 – the name means ‘yesterday’s castle’, although the name is a corruption of an earlier form – the ancient Italic people built a temple in the 8th century B.C. Its name evokes the title of Umberto Eco’s novel, “the island of the day before…” After back pain destroyed his Tour de France and put his future in doubt, Egan Bernal returned to his castle of yesterday with a stunning acceleration that won him his first Grand Tour stage, and the Maglia Rosa. It was the product of the technique acquired when he was one of the best junior mountain bikers in the world (world junior silver medallist in 2014 and bronze medallist in 2015), his extravagant physical gifts, and his indomitable will. After all, only he knows how much he suffered to rebuild his physique.

Ritual life in those ancient societies was often defined by numinous forms of violence: against rival clans, invaders, but also in purifying sacrifices without which cruel gods would not be placated. Two or three thousand years later, the modern world does not really know what to do with violence, which is why it keeps breaking out. That said, in the modern ritual that is professional cycling, the riders turn it on themselves, sometimes taking huge, barely justifiable risks – and we await news of Matej Mohorič, whose Giro ended in an acrobatic crash on the descent from the Passo Godi. 

They tunnel deep into pain,often for the most uncertain of rewards, as Eduardo Sepúlveda showed today, repeating the feats of Bauke Mollema on stage 6 and Victor Campenaerts on stage 8 by chasing down a large breakaway, and achieving nothing more. It took close to 90 km of constant attacking and reacting over three big climbs for the breakaway to form today, and there were still three big climbs to come. Keon Bouwman, the best of the breakaway riders, caught at the last gasp, ended the stage just 31 seconds from victory. Geoffrey Bouchard achieved a fragile, 3 point lead over Bernal in the Maglia Azzurra competition. 

But the day belonged to Egan, whose face during his final attack, and tears during his post-stage interview, told a story. 

“A lot has happened to get me here, and my team mates had more confidence in me today than I did. This victory is more for them than for me. There is a long way to go in the Giro, but his win, and this Maglia Rosa, makes it all worth it.”

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