The defending champion lost all hope of overall victory Sunday when he ceded more than seven minutes under unrelenting pressure from Jumbo-Visma on the Tour’s first hors-categorie summit finish in 2020.
Bernal started the stage third overall at 59 seconds behind Primož Roglič, but lost 7:22 to plummet out of contention to 13th at 8:25 back.
With a week left to race, it’s all but impossible for Bernal to have a chance to win Colombia’s second yellow jersey.
“Today I lost three years of my life,” Bernal said. “My back is not the excuse. Now the team will have to change our plans through the rest of the race.”
Some wondered if Bernal might have been suffering a health problem, because it seems unlikely a rider of his climbing caliber could lose so much time simply on a bad day. Bernal, however, said it was indeed as simple as that.
“Winning the Tour is impossible now,” Bernal said, stating the obvious. “I did my best, for myself and for the team. There are other riders who are stronger than me, and I have to accept that. I felt empty and had no strength. There are no other excuses. I just didn’t have the legs.”
Just a day before, Ineos Grenadiers was expressing quiet optimism that the longer, harder climbs in the final week would favor Bernal. All that hope evaporated on the cruel steeps of the Grand Colombier, a stony ridge towering in the Jura Mountains.
Instead of Ineos Grenadiers, it was Jumbo-Visma who was setting the punishing tempo. The team massed at the front over the day’s first two major rated climbs with a steady tempo that whittled the GC group down to less than 40. It was none other than Wout van Aert, already a winner of two stages, who absolutely pummeled the peloton on the lower flanks of the climb.
“I don’t what happened [to Bernal], but Jumbo did a really hard pace today and some riders paid for it,” said stage-winner Tadej Pogačar (UAE-Team Emirates).
As the climb hit its famous switchbacks at about 13km to go, Bernal began to drift off the back. Compatriot Nairo Quintana (Arkéa-Samsic), who was also struggling to match the high tempo, tried to encourage Bernal to fight.
Ineos Grenadiers teammates Michal Kwiatkowski helped pace Bernal as he desperately struggled to limit his losses. To add insult to injury, van Aert marked his wheel on the middle part of the climb. Bernal eventually gave up the chase, and slowly pedaled across the line surrounded by teammates, with the hulking mass of van Aert on his wheel.
“I was already suffering on the first climb,” Bernal said. “I told my teammates that I was on my limit. I tried to fight to the end, but I knew I would never get up the final climb.”
The dramatic turn of events all but ends Ineos Grenadiers dominance at the Tour de France, at least this year.
The British team had won seven of the past eight editions of the Tour with four different leaders. After Bernal bounded to become Colombia’s first Tour winner, team boss Dave Brailsford decided to leave former Tour winners Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas at home.
Instead, Brailsford brought a relatively young team, with only Kwiatkowski and Luke R0we being part of the team before 2017.
Opening day crashes involving key helpers Pavel Sivakov and Richard Carapaz didn’t help. Bernal, who left the Critérium du Dauphiné early citing back pain, matched Jumbo-Visma across the Pyrénées. He looked off his best, however, and clearly suffered up Puy Mary on Friday.
Sunday’s collapse means the end of the run Ineos Grenadiers — which missed out on the 2014 Tour after Froome crashed out — and the growing prominence of Jumbo-Visma.
Roglič finished second on the stage to solidify his grip on the yellow jersey going into Monday’s final rest day.