With around 50 kilometers remaining in the 20th stage of the 2021 Giro d’Italia, Damiano Caruso and his Bahrain – Victorious teammate Pello Bilbao attacked in the descent of the Passo San Bernardino. The pair had set off after the Team DSM trio of Chris Hamilton, Michael Storer and Romain Bardet, who were in hot pursuit of the day’s breakaway.
Bilbao had towed Caruso to the front of the race by the 47.5 kilometers to go point. The Spainard immediately began pulling turns on the front, collaborating with the DSM domestiques in an effort to set up their respective leaders.
Bahrain – Victorious and Caruso in particular had a lot to gain. The Italian entered the day in second place on the general classification. For the first time in his career, the 33-year-old was knocking on the door of a podium in a Grand Tour.
Because of this, Bilbao rode his heart out for Caruso. He paced his leader up over the Splügenpass with 30 kilometers to go. He guided Caruso down the wet descent towards the foot of the final climb.
With 6.9 kilometers remaining, Michael Storer was dropped from the leading quartet. This shift left Bilbao as the only pacemaker remaining. The 31-year-old continued for 400 meters, trying to force every last bit of energy out of his legs.
Bilbao pulled off with 6.5 kilometers to go, his gas tank completely empty. As Caruso came past his teammate, he extended his arm to thank Bilbao.
The show of gratitude produced one of the most memorable moments of this year’s Giro.
📽️ What does it mean to be a champion?
— Giro d'Italia (@giroditalia) May 29, 2021
Caruso’s Stage Win
From that point on, Caruso rode for himself. He collaborated for a while with Romain Bardet, but the Frenchman fell off the pace with 2 kilometers to go.
At that point, there was nothing left to stand in between Caruso and the stage win.
Caruso finished strong to take the victory by 24 seconds ahead of Egan Bernal. It was not enough to pull off a coup on the general classification. However, it was a fitting way to cap off the standout Giro d’Italia of Caruso’s career.
Damiano Caruso himself was brought to this race as a teammate. He was meant to be part of the support team for Mikel Landa.
When Landa crashed out on stage 5, Caruso seamlessly made the jump from mountain support to team leader. In the process, he drafted Bilbao as his right hand man.
Over the course of his career, Caruso has ridden for leaders such as Basso, van Garderen, Porte and Landa. Perhaps this is why he took the time to show his appreciation for Bilbao on the road. He knows exactly what it means to give everything in support of a teammate.
Cycling is unique because it is a team sport consisting of the efforts of individuals.
Bilbao’s sacrifice on the day will not be recorded in any official way. He is not credited with an assist for the 41 kilometers that he rode on the front in support of Caruso. The results sheet simply shows that he crossed the line in 17th place.
However, Caruso will never forget the work that Bilbao did. That is why the gesture on the Alpe Motta was so special. It was a moment shared by two teammates who each gave everything for a common goal.
Caruso’s post race comments reflect that.
Caruso: "I thought about a thousand things in the last meters before the line — all my sacrifices, my training, all the work done by my teammates. We rode in an exemplary way today, Bilbao in particular. Today I realized a dream. I think I'm the happiest man in the world." #Giro pic.twitter.com/6MDTFnJriv
— Neal Rogers (@nealrogers) May 29, 2021
The Giro concludes tomorrow with a 30 kilometer long time trial into Milan. After 20 stages, here is where the general classification currently stands:
— La Flamme Rouge (@laflammerouge16) May 29, 2021
You never know until the race is truly over, but past evidence would suggest that the final podium is more or less wrapped up. Bernal is shooting for his second grand tour victory, while Caruso is looking to secure his first ever podium. Simon Yates has nearly a four minute gap on Aleksandr Vlasov in fourth, which should secure the final podium spot for the Brit.
Based on time trialing ability and current form, here is a guess at where the top eight on GC might stand after tomorrow’s TT.
- Egan Bernal
- Damiano Caruso
- Simon Yates
- Aleksandr Vlasov
- Daniel Martínez
- João Almeida
- Hugh Carthy
- Romain Bardet
This has been an incredible Giro d’Italia so far. Tomorrow, we get one final day to enjoy the action. As we saw at last year’s Tour de France, a final time trial in a Grand Tour can provide quite a lot of drama.
Let’s hope that tomorrow is a fitting conclusion for the incredible three weeks that we have had all across Italy.
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