The defending Tour champion was isolated and against the ropes in a few key moments in Saturday’s Pyrenean storm, but managed to survive relatively unscathed.
The Ineos Grenadiers captain didn’t have many familiar jerseys around him when the attacks went down on the Peyresourde. Richard Carapaz stayed close, but Bernal had to dig deep to handle the barrage of attacks.
“When they attacked I couldn’t follow,” Bernal said. “I thought that it would be impossible to do that effort until the finish of the climb, so I did what was best for me. I did a good job. I should be happy. We need to have respect for the other riders. They were really strong, and it must be a really nice race to see on the TV.”
Jumbo-Visma might be taking this Tour by the scruff of the neck in the first week of racing, but things quickly devolved into an every-rider-for-themselves skirmish at the sharp end of the stage Saturday.
“Jumbo-Visma is very strong,” Bernal said. “The rhythm they put up the second last climb and all the way down with Van Aert has been very demanding. Roglic is one of the strongest rivals but Pogacar is also phenomenal… and there are Quintana, López, Urán… It’s going to be a very open and interesting race.”
Most of the team leaders were isolated, setting off a flurry of attacks from all corners.
Bernal was yo-yoing in ways the peloton’s never seen before from the young Colombian star. When Tadej Pogačar, Primož Roglič and Nairo Quintana all attacked, Bernal cautiously stayed back.
“We did the last two climbs really fast,” Bernal said. “That was really, really hard, especially when Tom Dumoulin was doing a really hard pace. I had the feeling that I couldn’t go at that pace until the final and I was looking at the numbers but I managed myself.”
With Ineos Grenadiers coming to this year’s Tour without Chris Froome or Geraint Thomas, all eyes are on Bernal.
So far, the team has done a good job at protecting Bernal’s flanks and keeping him in strong GC contention.
The team is hoping to carry him out of the Pyrénées and into more favorable terrain in the Alps, where they hope Bernal will take flight like he did in 2019.
“Disappointed with today’s stage? Absolutely not,” Bernal said. “I think it’s been a good day for me. It’s been a fast race and that’s good. The last climb in particular has been done on a very high rhythm. I’m happy to have completed it with the rest of the favorites and showed that I’m still up there with the best.”
Bernal might be young in years, but he’s wise enough to know nothing comes free in cycling.
“This is the biggest race in the world so it’s not easy to win,” Bernal said. “It’s not easy to just drop people so I’m happy to arrive with them, and not lose time.”