Egan Bernal was in his best ever shape during Giro d’Italia 2021 and produced some incredible performances across the three weeks. The killer blow was dealt on GC in the wet and cold stage 16, which finished in Cortina d’Ampezzo. No one stood a chance against Bernal on Passo Giau (9.7 km, 9.51%), which topped out at 2225 metres above sea level. Let’s look at this historic performance.
The stage perfectly suited Colombian. It was originally planned as a 212 kilometre queen stage with three mountain passes above 2000 metres, but unfortunately due to possible wet and snowy conditions, it was re-routed. As a consequence, Passo Fedaia and Passo Pordoi were removed and the stage was shortened by 59 kilometres and over 1,500 metres of climbing.
Profile before changes
If the original profile had stayed the same then Bernal’s performance would have been more dominant. It is possible that Simon Yates could have cracked completely like in the Giro d’Italia 2018 Finestre stage, as he lost 2 minutes and 37 seconds to Bernal on this ‘easier’ course. Bardet was at home on the cold and wet descents and lost the chance at stepping onto the GC podium with the parcours change whilst Remco Evenepoel had his hopes for a decent GC result ended, losing 24 minutes.
Profile after changes
A hard day before Passo Giau
Riders in the peloton before Passo Giau rode for 3 hours and 28 minutes in non-stop pouring rain, during which Bernal averaged 230 watts (3.90 w/kg) with normalized power being 263 watts (4.46 w/kg). The Colombian burned 2872 kilojoules before Passo Giau. Despite the two climb steady climbs before Giau, the riders accumulated a lot of fatigue, with their kilojoule burn rate of 14.00 kj/kg/h, indicating a high stage difficulty. The context of this stage being at the start of the third week of Giro should also be considered, when riders have two weeks of fatigue already in their legs.
The temperature at the start of Passo Giau was only 6 Celsius degrees, but at the top 4 Celsius degrees. Before the attack on Passo Giau, Bernal did 5.84 w/kg for 16:56, while drafting the train of Education-First. Bernal attacked after Simon Carr, teammate of Hugh Carthy (5th in GC before the stage, +2:11 to Bernal), finished his pull, when the group was only comprised of Bardet, Ciccone, Caruso, Bernal and Carthy (Yates had already been dropped). Staying seated, and not seeking to create a huge gap immediately, Bernal produced 7.1 w/kg for 57 seconds, which was enough to drop everyone.
He kept his power steadily and paced it perfectly, pushing 6.01 w/kg for 15:41 when going solo. Bernal’s average cadence was 81.
After the attack, Bernal was catching one by one early breakaway riders such as Davide Formolo, Joao Almeida and Antonio Pedrero, who had a few minutes buffer before Passo Giau.
Bernal did not upload his heart rate data, but it would not be surprising to see if his heart started to beat faster when two men with functioning chainsaws started to chase him up the climb.
Despite the poor conditions, Bernal set a new climbing record of Passo Giau, beating the previous record by 49 seconds.
The previous record was set by multiple riders in the 2016 Giro d’Italia stage 14. It is important to mention that after Passo Giau, they needed to do Passo Valparola (12.2 km, 5.8%). The stage was won by Esteban Chaves where he beat in the sprint Steven Kruijswijk and George Preidler, the latter of which was handed a four-year ban later in 2019 after it was discovered the Austrian was involved in the Operation Aderlass doping scandal.
Bernal did not need to risk everything on the wet and technical descent into Cortina d’Ampezzo as he had a 45-second gap over the next closest rider, Damiano Caruso at the top of Passo Giau.
Romain Bardet took the KOM title of the Passo Giau descent, gaining 37 seconds on Bernal but it is likely that the Basque Gorka Izagirre went even faster than Bardet. Bardet’s superb descent meant he only lost 27 seconds to Bernal on the stage, finishing second together with Damiano Caruso.
Passo Giau descent Strava segment
Bernal also gave a few seconds back to the chase group in the last kilometre as he took off his rain jacket to show the pink jersey to the photographers at the finish line.
Bernal peak performances
Compared to other Bernal peak climbing and Giro d’Italia 2021 performances, his Passo Giau effort does not seem that impressive, but that is because of the high altitude, where it is harder to produce high w/kg due to the lower amount of oxygen, as well as the difficulty of the stage before the climb. That is the main reason why also his Col d’Iseran performance, which guaranteed Bernal the Tour de France 2019 GC victory, is not on this graph. The most impressive Giro d’Italia 2021 performance by pure w/kg and time duration was on Monte Zoncolan Sutrio, where Bernal dropped every GC rival, producing 6.09 w/kg for 40:02.
It is hard to compare altitude performances, but here are Bernal’s best ones:
- Passo Giau 5.91 w/kg for 32:45 (start 1303m -> top 2225m) Giro d’Italia stage 16 2021
- Vallter 2000 5.78 w/kg for 33:10 (1264m -> 2145m) Volta a Catalunya stage 3 2019
- Col d’Iseran 5.77 w/kg for 35:50 (1804m -> 2758m) Tour de France stage 19 2019
- Alto de las Palmas 5.59 w/kg for 39:21 (1479m -> 2519m) Tour of Colombia stage 6 2019
If we divide the starting point and top of the climbs then Col d’Iseran’s performance seems outstanding. The higher the climb goes, the harder it is to produce big power, particularly above 2500m.
Average altitude of climbs:
- Col d’Iseran 2281 m
- Alto de las Palmas 1999 m
- Passo Giau 1764 m
- Vallter 2000 1704.5 m
For this reason, in our view, Col d’Iseran is Bernal’s most impressive high altitude performance ever, but Passo Giau is close considering its miserable conditions compared to the summer jersey weather at the Tour in 2019.
Make sure to check out the full analysis video of the stage from LR down below, and let us know which moment from the past in the Giro d’Italia, Tirreno-Adriatico, Lombardia, Strade Bianche or Milano-Sanremo you would like analysed in the future.