All Hail Egan Bernal. French hopes dashed as race lead changes hands as hailstorm descends on final climb.
Team Ineos’s Columbian climbing prodigy takes over the lead of Tour de France from Alaphillpe after a hailstorm of apocalyptic proportions cuts off the road to Tignes and forces the annulment of Stage 19. The drama capped a day that saw Thibaut Pinot forced to abandon with a muscle injury.
While the race was hotting up on the slopes of the Col d’Iseran a massive hailstorm 30km ahead had turned the landscape white and rendered the road to the finish at Tignes impassable. Reacting quickly officials led by Race Director Christian Prudhomme made the decision to stop the race for rider safety.
The situation was soon relayed via time managers and race officials to riders including Bernal and Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) who were descending towards Val d’Isere with a lead of over two minutes on the yellow jersey. Reactions ranged from anger to frustration, disbelief to resignation. Alaphillipe who was descending like a madman clawing back time looked a picture of despair.
While details needed to be ironed out it was quickly decided that General Classification standings would be based on the time gaps at the top of the Col D’Iseran, placing Bernal firmly in the lead. It was also decided that there would be no stage winner, leaving Simon Yates ruing the missed opportunity to fight for a hattrick of wins.
The new Maillot Jaune, Egan Bernal explained his feelings at moving into the race lead:
“To be honest, I didn’t know what was happening. I’ve been told in the radio that the race was finished and I said ‘no I want to keep going’. There were talking to me in English and I was not sure. Only after I stopped and my director told me that I was in yellow, I felt relieved.
“It’s incredible. I can’t believe it. I want to ride full gas tomorrow and then arrive to Paris and once I cross the line, I’ll start believing this is true. There’s one hard stage remaining. It’s a short one. I’ll give it all on the road. To become the first Colombian winner of the Tour de France would be amazing.”
Outgoing champion Geraint Thomas expressed some regrets at the turn of events:
“If was a funny one because if we’d known [about the cancellation] beforehand it would have been more of a race to the top of that last climb. But it’s one of those things. It’s out of everyone’s control.
“It’s all ifs and buts. The main thing is that we’ve got the jersey in the team now and we’re in a great position. We just have to go in there and finish the job off tomorrow now. “Going into the last stage Egan’s in yellow. The main thing is he finishes the job. For sure he’ll have a decent advantage over everyone else. I fully support him now. He’s been incredible from the start and he’s a phenomenal talent.”
Thibaut Pinot was France’s Plan B for ending its 34 year long wait for a Tour de France win if ‘Plan Alaphillipe’ faltered but fate had other plans. The Groupama-FDJ rider had sustained a serious muscular injury a couple of days before after striking his handlebar while avoiding a crash.
Despite his team doctor’s efforts and making it through Stage 18 it all proved too much and on the climb of the Montée d’Aussois about 40 kilometres into the race Pinot abandoned coming to a stop in tears supported by his teammate William Bonnet.
More story to come…
Stage 19 Summary video (Copyright ASO)
General Classification after Stage 19