With Bernal sitting in second place at 21 seconds back, the veteran Ineos Grenadiers captain said the real Tour de France battle has yet to begin.
“We’re happy with where we are,” Rowe said at Wednesday’s start. “If you look back, the Tour really hasn’t begun. The days to come are just brutal.”
The Tour hits the midway point with Jumbo-Visma in control of the race, but Bernal is in prime position, ready to pounce going into the second half of the race. Rowe said despite losing some time bonuses to Primoz Roglic, he’s confident the defending champion will respond in the Alps.
“It’s not going to be won or lost by a few seconds,” he said. “We’ve just been sparring so far.”
“If I could snap my fingers to have the yellow jersey, of course I would,” Rowe said. “To have that on your team, the power that brings to the team, the morale, of course, you would take it. At the same time, it’s just a handful of seconds.”
Rowe is the most veteran rider on the current Tour team that Ineos Grenadiers brought to the Tour. Along with Michal Kwiatkowski, who joined Sky in 2016, Rowe is the last of the team’s old guard that made up “Fortress Froome” in the team’s Tour heyday with Chris Froome.
With Froome and Geraint Thomas both off the Tour team, Rowe is the last link to the team’s earlier roots. Now he has emerged as road captain and mentor to a young, but ambitious team.
“We’ve got eight guys here ready to race,” Rowe said. “We’re getting on like a house on fire. They’re good fun.”
Rowe, who helped Froome, Thomas and Bernal win yellow jerseys, said Bernal reminds him most of Froome.
“I’ve compared him to Froomey — pit-bull mentality, always wants more, always aggressive, gunning,” Rowe said. “He’s appreciative of the team, he’s a pleasure to ride for.”