Reigning Tour de France champion Egan Bernal said he “felt empty” losing more than seven minutes to leader Primoz Roglic on the ascent of the Grand Colombier on Sunday.
The Ineos Grenadiers driver is almost out of action for victory with a week of racing to go.
Roglic leads Tadej Pogacar by 40 seconds, Briton Adam Yates fifth.
“It’s hard to say what I felt, the feeling was that I was empty,” said the Colombian after Stage 15.
“I had no power. When the others made a big acceleration, I could not follow, added Bernal, 13th in the general classification but eight minutes and 25 seconds behind – a deficit practically impossible to reverse.
It was a shock for many to see how the 23-year-old failed to keep pace with yellow jersey wearer Roglic from Jumbo-Visma during Sunday’s 174.5km stage, which included two category 1 climbs and finished on the most difficult outboard category ranking. .
The high mountains of the French Alps are Bernal’s country – a place where last year he made himself comfortable to get away from his team-mate Ineos Geraint Thomas and Roglic.
He added: “I was not doing well on the first climb to be honest. I was trying to fight until the final and do my best, but my body couldn’t react normally.
“There are no excuses, I tried to fuel my body in the best possible way, but I didn’t have the legs. The other riders were stronger than me and we have to accept that. “
Bernal adored by his teammates
Before Sunday, Bernal seemed in good shape, momentarily passing the peloton on stage 14 in Lyon, almost like a show of strength for his rivals.
But a World Tour season delayed by the coronavirus pandemic has already seen unpredictable peaks and troughs in the performance of some of the sport’s best runners – as evidenced by France’s great hope for yellow Thibaut Pinot, who s’ is out of breath much sooner than expected.
But there were few signs that Bernal was having trouble on the bike.
His teammates love to ride for a man with such a cheerful demeanor, as evidenced by his attempt to cut his hair on the first day off.
“He’s waking up and he’s got this outrageous haircut,” said Luke Rowe, one of the team’s maids on this Tour. “Egan, what is this?” … He said: “I was bored!
“He has great enthusiasm. I like it and I like working with him. He appreciates the team and it’s a pleasure to ride. “
Bernal even tweeted shortly after the huge loss, “Vive Le Tour! Lively, if nothing else.
A brave new world for Ineos
Not being able to win the Tour de France with a week to go will be a very unusual feeling for a team that has won seven of the past eight years.
Such unprecedented success has come thanks to Bradley Wiggins in 2012, Chris Froome in 2013 and 2015-2017, Geraint Thomas in 2018 and then Bernal himself last year – the first after Ineos took over the Sky sponsorship.
They haven’t been in that position since 2014 – when Froome fell and abandoned the injured that year’s Tour in a wet and miserable first stage on the cobblestones of northern France between Ypres and Arenberg gate of Hainaut.
No Sky rider won a single stage for the remainder of this race.
But they are now ready to fight for the stages and have several riders with real pedigree ready to step out of the train of servants that we have grown accustomed to watching and making their own mark. In particular, Michal Kwiatkowski, who is no less a former world champion, and who has won several one-day races.
There’s also Rowe himself and the relatively new talent of Russian all-rounder Pavel Sivakov, who might surprise on a mountain stage. Just like the winner of the Giro d’Italia last year, Richard Carapaz.