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Cycling’s winningest franchise at the Tour de France finds itself uncharacteristically on the back foot nearing the third decisive week of the 2020 edition.
Egan Bernal vows to rebound despite ceding time in Friday’s searing finale in the Massif Central. With bigger mountains looming in the Alps, the defending Tour champion seeks redemption in the climb-riddled final week.
“We will keep fighting,” Bernal said Saturday. “Things didn’t go as we had hoped yesterday. We still have many climbing days ahead, and I hope to be better.”
Ineos Grenadiers has won seven of the past eight editions of the Tour utilizing a very familiar blueprint. The team would take control of the race early, place its rider into the yellow jersey, and then ride defensively into the final week.
This year, Jumbo-Visma has hijacked the British team’s playbook, and Primož Roglič started Friday with a promising 59-second gap to third-place Bernal.
The team put a positive spin on their GC situation just hours after Roglič gave Bernal a drubbing on the Puy Mary.
“Egan felt good, but those two kilometers didn’t go the way we expected,” said Ineos Grenadiers teammate Jonathan Castroviejo. “The hardest stages are still ahead of us. We hope to turn things around.”
Castroviejo, one of the team’s key workers in the transition stages, laughed off suggestion that the race is on for the podium behind Jumbo-Visma’s tightening grip on yellow.
“The Tour ends in Paris,” Castroviejo said. “We’re not throwing in the towel. The hardest part of the race is yet to come.”
Sport director Gabriel Rasch also preached patience. He admitted that Roglič and Jumbo-Visma have been impressive through the first two weeks of racing, but he’s counting on the third week to decide everything.
“We didn’t lose that much time and we are still very much in the game,” Rasch said. “For Egan, it’s better on longer climbs, with more climbing as long as possible. Sunday’s finale and the three remaining Alps stage will suit him better.”
Rasch also admitted the obvious, saying that it won’t be easy to dislodge Roglic from the top of the peloton.
“Jumbo has been super strong so far in the race and it’s hard to see where they can crack,” he said. “It’s going to be difficult.”
The team’s controversial decision to leave Geraint Thomas and Chris Froome on the sidelines continues to play out. Richard Carapaz and others have struggled to step up to fill the void.
And with Jumbo-Visma and Roglič so strong across all terrain, it’s hard to see where the team might find a crack to chip away at.
Rasch said the longer, more sustained climbs in the Alps should suit Bernal better.
Rasch also pointed out that the team played the waiting game in last year’s Tour. The circumstances compared to 2019 are very different. Though he gave a spirited defense, Julian Alaphilippe was considered a “custodial” yellow jersey who was expected to fade as the race got harder.
In contrast, Roglič and Jumbo-Visma are the strongest in the race right now.
And with a favorable time trial waiting for Roglič in the Vosges, it’s going to take something dramatic for Bernal to topple the Slovenian.
“The Tour is far from over,” Rasch said again. “The hardest stages are still the hardest stages to come.”
Perhaps if they keep repeating it they will start believing it. Sunday’s summit finish — the first “hors-categorie” mountaintop finish in 2020 — will tell everyone if longer and harder suits Bernal any better than Roglic.