After nearly three weeks of complete uncertainty at the Tour de France, things are back to normal, with an Ineos rider in the yellow jersey.
Never in its six previous victories at cycling’s marquee event did the super-rich British team have to wait so long before taking control of the race. But two days before the Tour ends on the Champs-Elysees in Paris, new race leader Egan Bernal and his teammates finally did it Friday during a memorable stage that was turned upside-down by a hailstorm.
The dramatic weather conditions made the road to the ski resort of Tignes too dangerous and forced organizers to stop stage 19. But before they called it a day, Ineos riders had already made the pack explode en route to the Col de l’Iseran, the Tour’s highest point at 2,770 meters.
Times were taken at the top of the mountain, were Bernal was 2 minutes, 10 seconds faster than Julian Alaphilippe, enough to wipe away the Frenchman’s race lead.
”When they told me that I was the race leader, I could not believe it,” said Bernal. ”I wanted to cry.”
”We’ve maybe not been the strongest that we’ve been all race, but today was the day,” Ineos manager Dave Brailsford said. ”We thought if there was anywhere that we could make the difference it was on the Iseran. It was going to be hard to get there and I actually thought the guys rode really well.”
Bernal now leads Alaphilippe by 48 seconds overall, with Geraint Thomas in third place, 1:16 off the pace.
”We are in a very good position. The team can control although we never know until the end,” Bernal said.
After competing at his first Tour last summer and doing an impressive job in support of Thomas and Froome, Bernal was set to get a maiden leader experience at the Giro d’Italia. But he fractured his collarbone in a training crash, forcing him to miss the race and 76 days overall. He returned to competition in June to win the Tour de Suisse, another prestigious title to add to his success at Paris-Nice in March.
”I love to suffer in the mountains. I love the adrenaline,” Bernal said when asked about his decisive offensive. ”I knew that I could fight for the title with an attack. At the same time, it was taking the risk of losing my podium spot. So It told myself, ‘I’m 22, no worries if it does not work, I have so many Tours in front of me.’ I would have had eternal regrets if I had not attacked.”