In the first major clash between the Tour de France stars in months, Team Ineos once again put pain in what could be a glimpse of what to expect.
With Chris Froome as assistant in Monday’s “queen stage” on the Route de Occitanie, Egan Bernal and Pavel Sivakov went 1-2 to take control before Tuesday’s final.
As a result of Ineos’ demonstration, a large number of Tour stars were looking for answers and encouragement.
“I didn’t feel too bad,” said Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ), fourth 31 seconds behind Monday. “I don’t miss much. It’s a shame, but I am encouraged. I would have preferred to fight for the win, but I’m happy with the result. I lack a bit of racing intensity, but it’s okay. The most important thing is that I am not 100% at the moment and that I can improve myself before participating in the Tour.
The Occitanie race marks the first major race for months for Tour riders after the coronavirus stopped. Froome has contented himself with playing a super-domestic role as he continues his progression towards what he hopes will be a place in the powerful Ineos lineup for the Tour, which begins August 29 in Nice.
Tuesday’s 195 km rolling stage from Lectoure to Rocamadour should not pose too many problems for the GC riders, the 2019 Tour champion, Bernal, should therefore ensure the general.
Romain Bardet (Ag2r-La Mondiale), who had crashed into a crowd at the finish line the day before, admitted he was not feeling very well on the steep and rapid climb to the last summit of Col de Beyrède in the French Pyrenees, crossing the sixth line at 1:09 return.
“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 be done.”
Among the other Tour riders, a large number of them finished about 1 minute behind Ineos. Warren Barguil, who will share leadership roles with Nairo Quintana at Arkéa-Samsic, was sixth at 1:09 back. He was draped by Bauke Mollema of Trek-Segafredo, 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, ”said Mollema. “I’m happy to be able to perform well again today.”
The big surprise on the climb was Alexandr Vlasov of Astana, who finished just behind compatriot Sivakov, third at 17 seconds. The 24-year-old finished second at the Tour de Provence in February, where he won a stage. The WorldTour rookie is set to make his grand tour debut later this season at the Giro d’Italia.
“It was a very important step. It was a tough climb, very fast, ”said Vlasov. “Ineos did an impressive job. I just tried to stay on the wheels and not lose the wheel of Bernal and Sivakov. This is a good result. To finish behind the winner of the Tour de France is really, really good. I’m happy with my form now.
For his part, Bernal said he was “honored” by the result of the stage. After confirming his form before his Tour defense, the Colombian said he would work to avoid peaking too early and prepare with “calm” before racing the Critérium du Dauphiné.
From the appearance of the faces at the finish line on Monday, everyone had better hope Bernal won’t be even stronger in a month.