Tour de France 2020

Tour de France-bound stars look for consolation behind Bernal

Pinot, Bardet search for signs of encouragement after Ineos takes control of Occitanie.

In the first major clash between Tour de France stars in months, Team Ineos was yet again dishing out the pain in what could be a preview of what’s in store.

With Chris Froome riding as a helper in Monday’s “queen stage” at the Route de Occitanie, Egan Bernal and Pavel Sivakov went 1-2 to take control going into Tuesday’s finale.

In the wake of Ineos’s demonstration, a slew of Tour-bound stars were looking for answers and encouragement.

“I didn’t feel too bad,” said Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ), fourth at 31 seconds back Monday. “I’m not missing that much. It’s too bad, but I am encouraged. I would have preferred to have been fighting for the win, but I’m happy with the result. I lack a bit of intensity of racing, but it’s OK. The most important thing is that I am not at 100 percent right now, and I can improve before going to the Tour.”

The Occitanie race marks the first major racing in months for the Tour-bound riders following the coronavirus shutdown. Froome was content to play a role as super-domestique as he continues his progression toward what he hopes is a slot on the powerful Ineos lineup for the Tour, which starts August 29 in Nice.

Tuesday’s rolling 195km stage from Lectoure to Rocamadour shouldn’t present too many problems for the GC riders, so the 2019 Tour champ Bernal is expected to secure the overall.

Romain Bardet (Ag2r-La Mondiale), who had crashed in a finish-line pileup the previous day, admitted he didn’t feel great in the steep, fast climb up the final summit at Col de Beyrède in the French Pyrénées, crossing the line sixth at 1:09 back.

“I didn’t have a good feeling. There was a very fast tempo, and I had a hard time getting into the [rhythm],” Bardet said. “I didn’t expect to be at my best today, but the time gaps were impressive, and there is still a lot of work to do.”

Among the other Tour-bound riders, a slew of them finished about 1 minute behind Ineos. Warren Barguil, who will share leadership duties with Nairo Quintana at Arkéa-Samsic, was sixth at 1:09 back. He was draped by Trek-Segafredo’s Bauke Mollema, fifth at 1:05, and Richie Porte, seventh at 1:11.

“I felt good today. After a long training block and an altitude camp, it’s a nice feeling,” Mollema said. “I am happy to be able to perform well again today.”

The big surprise of the climb was Astana’s Alexandr Vlasov, who finished just behind compatriot Sivakov in third at 17 seconds back. The 24-year-old was second at the Tour de Provence in February, where he won a stage. The WorldTour rookie is expected to make his grand tour debut later this season at the Giro d’Italia.

“It was a very important stage. It was a hard climb, very fast,” Vlasov said. “Ineos did an impressive job. I just tried to stay on the wheels, and not lose the wheel of Bernal and Sivakov. It’s a good result. To arrive behind the winner of the Tour de France is really, really good. I’m happy with my shape now.”

For his part, Bernal said he was “honored” by the outcome of the stage. After confirming his form ahead of his Tour defense, the Colombian said he’s going to work to not peak too early and prepare with “calmness” before racing the Critérium du Dauphiné.

From the looks of the faces at the finish line Monday, everyone better be hoping that Bernal isn’t even stronger in a month’s time.

Romain Bardet at the finish line Monday at the Route de Occitanie. Photo: Route de Occitanie