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Julian Alaphilippe, Egan Bernal pass Ventoux climbing test

Bernal's nagging back injury and Alaphilippe's commitment to attack both survive early season climbing challenge

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Egan Bernal may have gotten the upper hand in the final throwdown with Julian Alaphilippe on the Ventoux stage of Tour de la Provence, but they’ve both come out smiling.

The 15-kilometer grind to Chalet Reynard made for a tough test in the frozen early season, but Bernal showed hints of a return to former strength while Alaphilippe proved that the panache isn’t reserved only for the flatlands.

“I am pretty happy with my shape,” Alaphilippe said after taking third on the stage. “Today was a good test and I can be content with how I did on a hard climb that commands respect, even though we didn’t go all the way to the summit.”

The star duo scrapped for podium positions of the race’s third stage Saturday after Iván Sosa punched off the group and disappeared into the mist on the way to victory.

Alaphilippe was up against it as Bernal sat anchored on his wheel to boost teammate Sosa’s chances of the win, but the world champ put up a characteristic battling performance in the effort to drop his Colombian shadow. Despite the Frenchman’s best efforts, Bernal charged clear of his rival in the final kilometer to score an Ineos one-two.

Though Bernal let Alaphilippe do the pulling in the scrap for second place, the former Tour de France champion showed signs of the climbing chops that scored him a yellow jersey in 2019. Having flamed out of the Tour last summer due to a back injury that has plagued him through the winter, the steep slopes of the Ventoux gave the 24-year-old the opportunity to gauge his comeback.

“My condition? I’m happy, I feel good,” Bernal said. “My back didn’t bother me much, although I can still feel the lesion a little bit – it’s something I’m going to have to live with all year. But doing this climb at this pace gives confidence for my big goals.”

Bernal has been penciled in as the leader of Ineos Grenadiers at this year’s Giro d’Italia, though is still fighting for a slot at the Tour beside designated captains Geraint Thomas and Richard Carapaz. After flashes of breakaway bravado through the Étoile de Bessèges last week, the Colombian will be eyeing the pink jersey and a possible return to France with a hint more optimism.

For Alaphilippe, third on the Ventoux having dazzled with an attacking ride on the opening stage Thursday further proves that the world champ is starting as he means to go on in a season stacked with ambition.

“The team was incredible in the way it controlled the race, from the beginning until the start of the climb,” he said. “We showed again why we are ‘the wolfpack’ and, at the end of the day, I have no regrets. It’s a good result, one that gives me confidence for the next goals.”

Saturday’s Ventoux test may have shown that Bernal and Alaphilippe will be back at the top of the class in 2021.