Egan Bernal predicted there would be splits on the final, wall-like climb of Pas de Peyrol at the Tour de France on Friday. He was dead right. Unfortunately for the Colombian, and for fans of Ineos Grenadiers, the 2019 champion found himself on the wrong side of them.
<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="Another brutal, lung-busting day at the Tour – the most illuminating of the race as far as the overall picture is concerned – saw Bernal give up 38 seconds to Slovenians Primoz Roglic [Jumbo-Visma] and Tadej Pogacar [UAE Team Emirates] on the finish to stage 13, a monstrous up-and-down day featuring no less than seven categorised climbs.” data-reactid=”27″>Another brutal, lung-busting day at the Tour – the most illuminating of the race as far as the overall picture is concerned – saw Bernal give up 38 seconds to Slovenians Primoz Roglic [Jumbo-Visma] and Tadej Pogacar [UAE Team Emirates] on the finish to stage 13, a monstrous up-and-down day featuring no less than seven categorised climbs.
Bernal dropped to third overall as a result. He is now 59secs behind Roglic, and 15secs behind Pogacar who leapfrogs him in the general classification. Not a disaster by any stretch. We still have the biggest stages of this race to come, in the Alps, which was where Bernal came on strong in the third week last year.
But the 23-year-old’s struggles at the moment, the fact that he consistently finds himself that fraction off the pace of Roglic and Pogacar, the fact that he looked so spent at the finish, hunched over his handlebars, the fact he volunteered that he was producing some of his “best numbers” but still coming off second best, do raise an interesting question for Ineos.
As Bernal was labouring up the Pas de Peyrol and its devilish 15 per cent ramps, 700 miles away down in Italy, Geraint Thomas, the man Ineos surprisingly left at home, was finishing second on the Queen stage of Tirreno-Adriatico. Thomas, who was 35secs behind stage winner and new race leader Simon Yates [Mitchelton-Scott] on the Sassotetto summit finish, sits third overall after five stages of that race. The Welshman declared afterwards that he was “pretty happy” with his form, and was “feeling good”.
It begs the question: what could Thomas have done here? Should Ineos have brought him?
Some believe they should. Former professional Jens Voight said before the race that he could not believe the British squad were not bringing their “good luck charm” who has been with the team on six of their seven victories since 2012.
Voight repeated that thought on Friday, tweeting that Ineos were undoubtedly “missing” Thomas’s vast experience.
It is impossible to know what impact he might have had. In terms of legs, Thomas was not on brilliant form at last month’s Criterium du Dauphine, which is why the team decided to leave him out and get him to focus instead on the Giro d’Italia. Perhaps Thomas would not have been right up there on GC himself, as a Plan B.
But as we are seeing now, a few weeks on, Thomas’s form is not bad at all. He would have done a sterling job here, as he always does. And as for his leadership, his influence, his status within the peloton, could he have made life easier for a 23-year-old who is, lest we forget, racing in only his third grand tour.
From Thomas’s perspective, he is undoubtedly better off where he is now; building form, preparing for a crack at the Giro d’Italia, which, if he could pull it off – and it promises to be a great race with Yates clearly in decent form – would rank exponentially higher on his CV than helping Bernal to another Tour win. But for Ineos?
Bernal remains in the fight, at least. And he was not actually short of assistance on Friday. Ineos had Pavel Sivakov in the breakaway who dropped back to help Bernal as Ineos drove the pace into the final run-in, trying to set the Colombian up for the climb. He just did not have the punch to stay with Roglic and Pogacar in the final reckoning.
The Slovenian duo finished the stage around 6mins down on Dani Martinez [EF Pro Cycling] who won a thrilling, dizzying battle of wits and legs with two Bora Hansgrohe riders, Lennard Kamna and Max Schachmann, after the trio had broken clear of the day’s 17-man breakaway. It was exhausting just watching them slug it out on the final climb.
A disastrous day for the French, with Romain Bardet [AG2R] crashing and both he and Guillaume Martin [Cofidis] dropping out of a top 10, has given the leaderboard an extraordinary look, with two Slovenians at the top followed by four Colombians. This is an unprecedented Tour in so many ways. Adam Yates [Mitchelton-Scott] is still hanging in there, too, now seventh on GC, only 1min 42secs off Roglic.