Dave Brailsford’s Ineos Grenadiers team may withdraw from this year’s Tour de France. Defending champion Egan Bernal was again left in the wake of irrepressible Primoz Roglic, who claimed a compelling stage victory at the first ski resort of this year’s race at Orcières-Merlette in the High mountains.
Roglic’s victory ended any speculation that he could still suffer from the after-effects of his crash at the Critérium du Dauphiné last month. The former ski jumper is flying and the question now is whether Bernal will be able to keep up. Considering Tuesday’s performance and the Colombian’s performance in the warm-up races, it can be a struggle.
As suspected before this year’s race, it is Roglic and his Jumbo-Visma team, not the Brailsford Grenadiers, who are proving to be the strongest. The authority and certainty that once dominated so many mountain stages and fueled the victories of Bradley Wiggins ’Tour, Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas, is gone.
Bernal, who is still fighting to get rid of the back injury that forced him to leave the Dauphiné in August, admitted to having underperformed. “It’s not good when another rider in the general classification gets a few seconds,” said the Colombian. “But I think we have to be patient.
“Our best scenario is to get into the third week without wasting too much time and then try to make up some time on the long climbs. We want to arrive as fresh as possible in the last week. “
By then, however, it may be too late. Four stages after the race, Roglic and his team dominate. The relentless pace of Slovenian teammates Wout van Aert and Sepp Kuss set up a trademark acceleration in the final 250 meters that left rivals breathless.
“It was a pretty quick day, but the guys did a really good job once again,” said Roglic, winner of the Vuelta a España last year. “I was still in a good position so I could do a good sprint so I’m very happy.”
But Roglic didn’t do enough to lift the yellow jersey off the shoulders of Julian Alaphilippe, who maintains his lead in the overall standings as the convoy leaves the Alps and turns west through the Drôme towards the Rhone Valley.
Alaphilippe, who showed his limpet qualities in last year’s race, can still hang on to the yellow jersey to the Pyrenees. “This is news I have to accept,” Roglic said of his failure to land yellow. “We stayed safe and in the end I won so it’s even better. ”
The 160.5 km fourth stage, comprising five categorized climbs, reached its frenzied climax, after a six-man breakaway advanced in the opening kilometers. The last man standing, Krists Neilands, of the Israel Start-Up Nation team, was finally ejected 7 km from the finish.
The bobby pin ladder at Orcières-Merlette failed to provide a dramatic collapse among this year’s favorites, but the 7.1km climb, however, started the weeding process that characterizes Grand Tours. As the final ascent approached, Roglic and Alaphilippe’s team Deceuninck-Quick Step worked hard to keep the pace high with Bernal’s Ineos Grenadiers hampered by injuries to Pavel Sivakov and d ‘a struggling Richard Carapaz, once again a low-key presence. .
The telltale attacks came in the last mile, with the furious tempo set by Coloradan climber Kuss in particular, putting Bernal and his team under intense pressure. The defending champion survived to finish in the top group, but now surely knows where the main threat of a second Tour victory will come from.
Adam Yates, who will join Ineos Grenadiers in 2021, remains second in the general classification, four seconds behind. “It would have been nice to attack and try to gain a few seconds,” he said, “but the pace was pretty quick at the end so there wasn’t much I could do. If I had attacked I would have gained 10 meters, so I will have to try another day.
But it’s Roglic, written off by some after last month’s crash, who is now the man to beat. “We can see that I can run and every day I feel a little better,” he said. “I am definitely ready.”