The defending Tour de France champions are preparing for a battle this weekend as the race heads into the Pyrenees.
Gabriel Rasch, the lead director sportif for Team Ineos Grenadiers, told reports ahead of Friday’s stage 7 that he is expecting the GC stars to come out swinging on stages 8 and stage 9, which take the peloton into the heart of the high mountains. And Rasch predicts that a few GC riders will see their Tour de France ambitions go down in flames on the steep, hard climbs.
“I think now we are at stage seven the race really starts — people are getting tired now, and in the Pyrenees we will get some more answers and see who really has the legs,” Rasch said. “Some of the GC guys on top of the GC now will fall off.”
On Saturday the peloton faces a punishing, if short 140km stage that takes in three classic Tour de France climbs: the Col de Menté, Port de Balés, and the Col de Peyresourde. Tour organizers sent the peloton over the three climbs in the same succession most recently in 2017, when Romain Bardet (Ag2R-La Mondiale) won the uphill sprint to Peyragudes ahead of Fabio Aru and eventual winner Chris Froome.
This year organizers have opted for a downhill finish — the route drops from the Peyrasourde into the town of Loudenvielle. A rider with a big enough gap at the summit of the Peyrasourde can easily stay away.
Then, on Sunday, the peloton tackles a 154km route from Pau to Laruns that takes in four categorized climbs, including the category 1 Col de Marie Blanque, which sits 20 or so kilometers from the finish. While the stage won’t deliver a knockout punch, it will definitely tire the legs.
“The Peyresourde stage it’s basically just the descent and then to the finish, so it doesn’t change that much for the approach of the climb and how it’s raced — perhaps a little bit because if you’re a good descender, you can catch up,” Rasch said. “On Sunday there’s a fair bit to the finish. So, let’s see.”
All eyes will be on the battle between Ineos Grenadiers’ GC rider Egan Bernal and the Jumbo-Visma team, which is working for Primož Roglič. Rasch said that Bernal is in good spirits, and that he has recovered fully from his back injury at the recent Critérium du Dauphiné.
“Yes, he’s good,” Rasch said. “His back is is good. Yeah, yesterday I think he switched off a bit in the final and I think it was a bit explosive, nothing dramatic.”
Much has been written about the heavyweight battle between Bernal and Roglič, as well as the team-wide battle between Ineos Grenadiers and Jumbo-Visma. The Dutch squad has already scored a few punches on Ineos at this year’s Tour by winning two stages and putting Bernal into trouble on the summit finish to Orcières-Merlette on stage 4.
Rasch said the team’s spirits are still high, and that nobody is worried about the state of the race. Rather, Team Ineos Grenadiers is playing the long game and waiting for the right moment to win the race.
‘I think that they’re in good spirits,” Rasch said. “We can take some confidence [in] the last two days. And we have our plan and we stay focused. I think from from now, the right people are getting more tired now. And race will open up a bit. So we have to be patient and take our chances when they arise.”