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The archaeology of Egan

19/05/2021

Mauro Schmid (Team Qhubeka Assos) wins stage 11 of the 2021 Giro d'Italia at Montalcino, on a day of a stunning attack by Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers), and a partial, hard-to-understand collapse by Remco Evenepoel (Deceuninck - Quick-Step), all on the stunning white roads of beautiful Tuscany.

The story of the stage is simply put: on the climb to Castiglion del Bosco, on the second sterrato section, Remco Evenepoel was hanging around the back of the Maglia Rosa group, and was soon yoyoing off the back, although he somehow managed to manoeuvre himself, with Almeida in close attendance, onto the wheels of Nibali and Ciccone, just behind Bernal and his teammates, where he rode the asphalt to Castelnuovo dell’Abate, and the third white road section. Just before the “25 km to go” banner, through the clouds of dust, Remco dropped back to last place in the Maglia Rosa group. A gap opened. Egan moved to the front of the group and raised the pace. Remco lost contact and lost the Giro.

The rest will be the subject of controversy, especially for Belgian fans: for 5 km, Remco rode alone, until João Almeida appeared ahead of him under the “20km to go banner.” Moments later, Almeida was riding away from him, and Remco was pulling his earpiece out of his ear (although replaced it a few minutes later). However, the dysfunction started much earlier.

Already, on the approach to the first sector of white road, as Filippo Ganna dragged Egan Bernal through Torrenieri towards the front of the peloton, Remco seemed to be sitting too far back in the peloton. You wondered if it was a tactic: keep the team together, let Ganna tear his own formation apart, isolating Egan, then counterattack as a group. When Remco found himself the wrong side of a 30” gap to the Maglia Rosa group, you began to question the tactic’s wisdom. He was eating a lot more dust back there than second wheel like Bernal. Even so, when it all came together, and Ganna dropped off, nearly coming to a halt, you wondered if it had worked, except that Deceuninck too had been, not decimated, but quartered, as in hung and drawn.

The telling detail was that the rider burning energy to close the gap was Remco. Something in the team was not working, and there were still 50 of the hardest kilometres of the Giro to go.

When Vlasov attacked with 4.5 kilometres to go, Egan followed, then exploded past him. In a flash, he was with Buchmann, who had attacked earlier, and they rode off to a 20” lead over the other GC contenders, and a 2’08” advantage over Remco. The memories – of Campo Felice on Sunday, of July 2019 – came flooding back.

The stage had been won, minutes before, by 21-year-old Mauro Schmid, who took his first professional win. There are now so many champions barely in their twenties, cyclocross champions who borrow a road bike and tear the peloton to shreds, track riders who win mountain stages, not to mention all those droves of young Colombians, that it has come to seem the norm, and perhaps it is. Procyclingstats.com recently published a table showing world ranking points scored by riders under 23 per season. In the year 2000 it was 2.9 per cent. By 2020 it had grown to 11.8 per cent: a four fold increase.

The attention industry’s relentless campaigns to propose new objects for our immediate consideration ensure that last year’s trends quickly come to seem only of archaeological interest. We forget that, until stage 15 of last year’s Tour de France, Egan was very much a contender. Second from stage 9 to stage 12, he went into the stage third overall – the best for four Colombians from 3rd to 6th in GC, behind the two Slovenians. only to fall out of contention with unbearable back pain. Suddenly, we were swamped with Slovenian success, and Egan’s record-breaking Tour win in 2019 began to sound like ancient history. But Egan Bernal is proving that, if last year he seemed to have been buried by history, this year he is back making it.

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