With this result, Bernal snatched four bonus seconds and now sits in third place overall, six seconds behind van Aert.
“We knew it would be a long day at cycling, a tough stage with an explosive finish,” Bernal said. “I was placed, I did the sprint. I’m glad to find myself in this position. I am trying to find my level of the Tour. I am very happy.”
Bernal’s result came after Team Ineos’ other GC leader, Chris Froome, wilted on the final climb amid a punishing pace set by van Aert’s Jumbo-Visma teammates. The Dutch squad controlled the peloton for the final 20 kilometers and set up van Aert seamlessly for the stage win.
Ineos fought to keep Bernal in contention, with Michał Kwiatkowski accelerating to keep Bernal near the front in the moments leading up to the final sprint. The team’s other marquee rider, Geraint Thomas, finished further back in the bunch, in 26th place.
“At the end of the day if you’re a rider as classy as Egan it is easy to position yourself in the bunch, but of course it’s a nice bonus when he can sprint for third and take some bonus seconds,” Kwiatkowski said.
Froome’s setback now places leadership duties squarely on the backs of Bernal and Thomas. Indeed, the four-time Tour champ simply couldn’t follow the pace on the final push to the line. With less than four kilometers to go, Froome and teammate Jonathan Castroviejo simply dropped off the back, just before major accelerations from the GC riders shredded the main field. Over the weekend, reports in the French and Italian media claimed that Froome may be in doubt to make Ineos’ squad for the Tour which begins on August 29.
Bernal remains hopeful that his British teammate, and the wealth of grand tour experience he brings with him, will accompany the squad to Nice in two weeks.
“He’s a rider who has a lot of experience,” Bernal told British broadcaster ITV before the stage. “For sure, to have a seven-time grand tour winner in the team is something important. So yes, for sure I would like to have him on the team.”
Despite Froome’s apparent struggles today, things could change for both he and Ineos during the next four stages of Dauphiné. Regardless, said Bernal, the team’s goals are more about building form and cohesion before the Tour.
“The most important goal for us should be to ride as a team and start to feel the real feeling of what we will have in the Tour,” Bernal told Cyclingnews.com. “To ride again as a team with the goal to be up there in the GC but looking at the TdF more than anything else.”