The image of Egan Bernal collapsed over his handlebars after grinding over the finish line Friday told the story.
The defending Tour de France champion couldn’t match the explosive Slovenian double-punch from Primož Roglič and Tadej Pogačar on the withering steeps of the Puy Mary.
“I did my best,” Bernal said. “The others were stronger than I was. I couldn’t do more. .”
Bernal slipped from second to third, now 59 seconds behind Roglič. Pogačar bumped from fifth to second, 11 seconds ahead of the Colombian.
Bernal’s hopes of loosening Roglič’s grip on the yellow jersey backfired. Ineos Grenadiers took it directly to Jumbo-Visma on the final two climbs, only to have the Dutch yellowjackets came over the top. The Slovenian duo of Roglič and UAE-Emirates’ Pogačar turned on the turbos and left Bernal fighting to limit the losses.
Colombia’s first Tour de France winner was astounded when he checked his numbers on his power meter.
“I looked at my numbers from today’s ride and they were almost my best ever,” Bernal said. “I felt good all day. The rest simply were faster.”
If that’s the case, Bernal could be in for a long week in the Alps.
Ineos Grenadiers was hoping to protect Bernal’s GC position through this weekend’s explosive climbs, and usher him into more favorable ground on the higher mountains of the Alps with yellow jersey options still fully intact.
With Roglič a superior time trialist to Bernal, the Colombian will need to up his game in the final week if he hopes to win a second straight Tour.
There was no immediate word from the Ineos Grenadiers sport directors after the stage, but it was obvious the team’s aggressive tactics didn’t pan out as well as they had hoped. The team surged to the front nearing the days final two climbs, hoping to spring Bernal on the final ramps of the Puy Mary.
It was Pogačar who yet again initiated the attacks. Unlike in the Pyrénées, where Bernal could match Pogačar and the ever-resilient Roglič, Bernal struggled on the very steep ramps on the Puy Mary. It was ideal terrain for Roglič to spin his high-cadence rhythm against a clearly struggling Bernal, who was simply out-classed in the final charge.
“We will have to see what happens in the coming days,” Bernal said. “Now I will take it day by day.”
There were no excuses from Bernal. Though he came into the Tour after leaving the Critérium du Dauphiné complaining of back pain, he seemed to regain his footing in the Pyrénées.
His flogging in the Massif Centra, however, will change everything as Ineos Grenadiers enters the final week of the Tour facing a very different challenge.
Over the past several years, the team has roared into the final week filled with confidence, and usually with the yellow jersey firmly in their grip.
This time, if they hope to win again, Bernal and Ineos Grenadiers will have to write a new script, and extract the lead from the strongest rival and team the franchise has faced since it won its first Tour title in 2012.
With both Pogačar and Roglič appearing a step above, Bernal will also have to look in the rearview mirror at three compatriots lined up behind him. Though there has been some talk of alliances between the Colombians, that is highly unlikely so long as any of them still have GC options.
“We must continue to focus and manage our efforts,” Bernal said. “In any case, I am not giving up. We have to keep morale high and do our best.”