Giro leader expects a harder second half

·2-min read

Egan Bernal admits he has enjoyed a better first half of the Giro d'Italia than expected, holding a 14-second lead on the first rest day.

The 2019 Tour de France winner began as one of the hot favourites for the pink jersey but his form was uncertain as he continues to battle a long-term back injury, while he had not raced since finishing fourth in Tirreno-Adriatico in early March.

A late attack on the gravel roads of stage nine to the summit finish at Rocca di Cambio on Sunday gave Bernal a first career Grand Tour stage win and thrust him into pink, though things are far from decided with 11 stages to go and only 62 seconds separating the top 10.

"It's going to be a very intense second part of the Giro," Bernal said.

"Up to now we have been fighting for seconds, but from here on the differences are going to be much bigger.

"We have to be very focused, the second part will be much harder.

"I don't know (about my form). I've not been able to do the training I wanted because of my back. It all depends on recovery."

In their days as Team Ineos and Team Sky before that, the Grenadiers perfected the art of claiming the leaders' jersey in a Grand Tour by the first rest day and then effectively shutting down their rivals over the remaining days to claim victory.

But this Giro is still too close for defensive tactics to work as the bigger mountain tests loom - with Bernal adamant he needs a much bigger buffer heading into the closing time trial in Milan.

Saturday's stage 14 brings a climb of the mighty Zoncolan, while the biggest tests are reserved for next week's stage 20 to the Alpe Motta, which has two passes at more than 2,000 metres before the climb to the summit finish.

"I can't be attacking every day, but I need to get to Milan with something of a margin," Bernal said.

"That's going to be the tactics. But we're in a great position, and can race calmly."

Remco Evenepoel is second, Aleksandr Vlasov sits third while others like Simon Yates remain in touch.