Egan Bernal is riding out of the Pyrénées with a tailwind.
The defending Tour de France champion fought and scrapped his way through nine stages to enter Monday’s rest day in very good position.
After a rough and tumble first week, with Jumbo-Visma throttling the Tour into apparent submission, Bernal is content to survive the Pyrénées in second place at 21 seconds back.
“I am very satisfied, above all due to the sensations,” Bernal said. “I might have lost a few seconds in time bonuses, but I’m happy from the sensations during the stage. I felt a lot better on the climb. I could enjoy things a little more on the bike, and this gives me a little more confidence in the next phase of the Tour.”
A confident Bernal could be bad news for the rest of the peloton.
There were plenty of question marks about Bernal coming into the race. He pulled out of the Critérium du Dauphiné with a sore back, and his Ineos Grenadiers team has been playing second fiddle to Jumbo-Visma’s drumbeat.
Arch-rival Primož Roglič claimed the yellow jersey Sunday after another surprising stage filled with searing attacks and brutal accelerations. Unlike Saturday, when Bernal appeared to be playing catch up to each surge, the Colombian was smoother in his reactions.
“I don’t want to say I am in a perfect situation,” Bernal said. “But I am calm, I am feeling good, and in this moment of the race, after nine stages, that’s the most important — to feel good, to feel motivated, and I am recovering well.”
This Tour is a milestone for Bernal, who takes over the reigns of outright leadership on the powerful Ineos Grenadiers lineup. Former Tour winners Geraint Thomas and Chris Froome were left on the sidelines, meaning that Bernal is the captain of the Ineos ship.
After perhaps a sluggish start, Bernal seems to be gaining his step. The series of explosive, punchier stage profiles don’t favor Bernal’s preferred terrain, which are longer, more sustained climbs.
After Monday’s rest day, the next major hurdle will be Friday’s stage in the Massif Central. If he can endure more inevitable attacks on the steep ramps, the course transitions into the Alps, Bernal’s favored hunting ground.
“When we arrive to the Alps, there will be a little more tired riders, that’s what I am taking away from the Pyrénées, a little bit more confidence,” Bernal said. “I can’t say that my form right now is perfect, but the sensations on the bike are improving.”
Bernal is now 21 seconds behind Roglič — all the differences have come from time bonuses which Roglič has picked up at finish lines and mid-stage primes — and the Colombian is already eyeing the time trial in Vosges.
“Obviously, I am 21 seconds behind Roglič, who is a rider who is very strong in the time trial, and with the time trial on the penultimate day, it’s obvious that I have to recover that time,” Bernal said.
With Roglič in yellow, Jumbo-Visma will have the responsibility to carry the leader’s jersey across a week of transition stages. That suits Bernal just fine, who is already looking ahead to the Alps.
“We’ll keep going day by day, keep doing the right things, keep on our feet on the ground, and try to enjoy the race,” he said. “And hopefully be respond in the most important moments of the race.”
The Tour is not yet at the mid-race point. There’s plenty of asphalt still to race. Everyone inside the Ineos Grenadiers bus quietly believes that is in their favor.