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Tour de France

Bernal ahead of Tour de France battle on Puy Mary: ‘There will be differences’

GC rivals brace for potentially explosive stage across Massif Central.

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Just as soon as the Tour de France peloton crossed the line Thursday, all eyes trained toward Friday’s summit finale at Puy Mary.

If you squinted hard enough, you might see the treeless, 5,200-foot summit of the dormant volcano protruding out of the Massif Central. It’s the next major challenge of what’s already been a very difficult race.

“There will be differences on the climb,” said Ineos Grenadiers leader Egan Bernal. “We reconned the climb, and it’s very demanding. The last two kilometers is very steep.”

Everyone is talking that the yellow jersey will be decided in the Alps in the final week of the 2020 Tour. No one can afford to look past Friday’s 191.5km 13th stage from Chatel-Guyon to Puy Mary summit.

There are seven climbs in the jagged, buzz saw-like profile for a total of 4,400m of climbing, including a mountaintop time bonus waiting at Col de Neronne with 11km to go. The stage should explode on the wide-open slopes of Puy Mary. At 5.4km at 8.1 percent, the final two kilometers of the climb are its steepest.

Tour de France stage xxx: Ambush-territory in the Massif Central. Image: ASO
No easy kilometers available in stage 13 through the Massif Central. Image: ASO

Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) carries a 21-second lead into the stage, all won with time bonuses. Unlike Bernal, he did not preview the climb, but he also expects a brief but intense GC battle.

“I think it’s a hard stage in front of us, it’s a nice challenge,” Roglič said. “We can expect some fight in the end. For us, everything stays the same, focusing on ourselves and do our job. In the end, a lot of things can happen.”

With time bonuses such a factor so far, Jumbo-Visma might press the action to control breakaways to set up Roglič and his speedy finish for another stage win and perhaps more bonuses. Others expect a breakaway to pull clear and take the bonuses off the table.

The stage arrives just as the Tour is hitting its halfway mark, and riders are starting to get tired. Jumbo-Visma has dominated the first half of the race, but its rivals will be looking for cracks in its facade. With another summit looming Sunday at Grand-Colombier, there could be some reshuffling of the GC deck before the peloton rolls into the Alps next week for the final decisive climbs.

Transition stages like Thursday — the longest of this year’s Tour at 218km — and cumulative effect of nearly two weeks of racing will start to be paid. The collective weariness is starting to set in, and legs that were full of fire in Nice might feel a bit more like burned coal in the Massif Central.

“It’s constantly up and down, when you have 12 days of racing in your legs, this day could be miserable if you’re not on top of your game,” said EF Pro Cycling sport director Charly Wegelius. “It’s days like these that finally contribute to some GC rider standing on a mountaintop in three week’s time, with one leg up, and one leg down, and no one really understanding why. It’s because of days like this.”

There are a half-dozen riders still in contention for this Tour, so everyone expects a hard-fought stage. The Massif Central always produces surprises and it’s likely at least one of the GC contenders will exit the tortuously twisting and narrow roads with their 2020 Tour dreams tattered and torn.

“Today was a hard day, and tomorrow will be even harder,” said Movistar’s Imanol Erviti, who rode into a break Thursday. “Puy Mary is very serious, and I’m sure it will cause some damage. I don’t know what it is about the Massif Central. The roads are constantly up and down, the pavement is grippy, which melt in the heat, the bike feels like it sticks to the road. It’s very tiring. And if that’s not enough, there’s the heat. They call it the ‘canicule,’ and it’s terrible, even in September.”