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With his yellow jersey chances buried under the Jumbo-Visma train on the slopes of the Grand Colombier on Sunday, Bernal said he’d be fetching water bottles for his teammates in the final week. And that’s what he was doing in Tuesday’s 164-kilometer stage 16.
If Monday’s rest day was a day of reckoning for cycling’s fallen dynasty, Tuesday was about getting back into the race. Ineos Grenadiers knows it won’t be winning this year’s yellow jersey, but the team still wants to take something home.
More for pride than anything else.
“It was hard to accept, but in cycling, the wheel keeps turning,” said Ineos Grenadiers Michal Kwiatkowski on Tuesday morning. “We obviously have to change our plan for this Tour. We had hoped to win with Egan. Now we have to try to win a stage.”
That’s what happened Tuesday. With Bernal on domestique duty, the team put Richard Carapaz, Andrey Amador and Pavel Sivakov into a long-distance breakaway. Lennard Kamna (Bora-Hansgrohe) spoiled the party, with Carapaz trailing through second.
How fast the mighty have fallen.
Team boss Dave Brailsford said the team will try to win a stage before Paris, and then regroup before unpacking what happened in 2020. Brailsford did not reveal the causes for the team’s implosion Sunday.
The team is hoping Bernal, who did complain of back pain before the Tour started, can at least arrive to Paris.
“That’s the aim, but we are monitoring him carefully,” Brailsford said. “He’s not in pain. It’s more a case of assessing what went wrong, which is what we are doing. Clearly there was something wrong because that wasn’t his normal performance on Sunday.
“He wouldn’t normally be out of that lead group — he might be 30 seconds better, 30 seconds worse — but he’d be in the mix,” he said. “But he’s proud. It’s not in his nature to quit.”
Bernal confirmed reporters at the finish line Tuesday that due to his back pain, he was over-compensating in his pedal stroke, and provoking knee pain. That fueled speculation that the team might pull Bernal to avoid a possibly more serious injury.
Brailsford was quick to shield Bernal from criticism, and said that the setback might actually help ease some of the media pressure and expectations that come with winning the Tour at such a young age.
“I think without doubt he’s had a successful young career,” Brailsford said. “Not many come back after winning their first Tour and win again. He’s very mature, talented and capable but he’s still only 23. I was worried that he might get old before his time because he needs to be allowed to be 23.
“He can 100 percent come back from this,” Brailsford said. “In sport, sometimes you need to lose and then you can go again.”
But will Bernal be the leader in next year’s Tour? Brailsford left some wiggle room.
“It’s way too early to say, we have to go through the Giro and the Vuelta first,” Brailsford said. “Then of course there will be a question about who does what race in 2021.”
Bernal seemed to be struggling again Tuesday. In the lumpy route, he hid in the gruppetto, finishing more than 10 minutes from the GC group. The goal is to reach Paris.