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Yates win during Stage 18 of Giro d’Italia only dents Bernal’s lead

104th Giro d'Italia 2021 - Stage 19

ALPE DI MERA - VALSESIA, ITALY - MAY 28: Simon Yates of United Kingdom and Team BikeExchange in breakaway during the 104th Giro d’Italia 2021, Stage 19 a 166km stage from Abbiategrasso to Alpe di Mera - Valsesia 1531m / Stage modified due to the tragic events on May the 23rd 2021 that involved the Mottarone Cableway / #UCIworldtour / @girodiitalia / #Giro / on May 28, 2021 in Alpe di Mera - Valsesia, Italy. (Photo by Tim de Waele/Getty Images)

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ALPE DI MERA, Italy -- British cyclist Simon Yates attacked on the steep ascent to the finish to win Stage 19 of the Giro d’Italia and made only a dent on Egan Bernal’s overall lead with two days remaining.

Yates, who rides for Team BikeExchange, attacked with more than six kilometers (four miles) to go and held off the field on the double-digit gradient to the Alpe di Mera finish.

Joao Almeida was second at the end of the 166-kilometer (103-mile) leg from Abbiategrasso, 11 seconds behind Yates. Bernal decided not to respond to Yates and merely to manage the gap; the Colombian finished third, 28 seconds behind.

Yates remained third overall, 2 minutes, 49 seconds behind Bernal, who actually increased his lead slightly over second-placed Damiano Caruso to 2:29.

“Today, I took one step further towards that final win,” said Bernal, also the 2019 Tour de France champion. “Now I’m confident ahead of tomorrow’s stage, which I’ll enjoy riding at a higher altitude. I want to arrive at (Sunday’s) time trial with some extra energy.”

There is another day in the high mountains on Saturday and Yates and his team hinted they would try and attack early rather than simply protect his podium place.

“I will try. Its going to be difficult. The gap is still massive,” Yates said. “I only gained 30 seconds today and I still need nearly three minutes.

“If I have legs I will try but it will be difficult.”

Yates led the race for 13 days in 2018, the same year he won the Spanish Vuelta. He had to abandon last year’s Giro after testing positive for COVID-19.

The penultimate stage on Saturday has been given the maximum difficulty rating of five stars. The 164-kilometer (102-mile) route from Verbania to Valle Spluga-Alpe Motta includes more than 4,200 meters of vertical gain and three top-category climbs including the final ascent to another summit finish.

The Giro finishes on Sunday in Milan with an individual time trial.

“For me, the most important thing is to have the maglia rosa (leader’s pink jersey) in Milan,” Bernal said. “When I have the legs, I like to attack. But now there’s one rider stronger than me and it’s Simon Yates.

“I want to keep the time I gained earlier in the Giro because that’s the fruits of great team work so I don’t want to make any mistakes that could ruin everything.”

Friday’s stage was modified to bypass the top-category climb of the Mottarone after a cable car disaster there killed 14 people on Sunday. The new, slightly shorter route nevertheless featured three categorized climbs - including a top-classed one to the finish.

The riders unanimously decided to donate all of the prize money from the stage to the sole survivor, five-year-old Eitan Biran, and the families of the victims.