Bernal Takes Tour de France Lead as Stage 19 Ends Early
- Egan Bernal took the overall Tour de France lead as officials called off Stage 19 midway through the course.
- Bernal had been leading the field when officials stopped the day’s race due to ice, mudslides, and flooding.
- Overall contender Thibaut Pinot had to abandon the Tour earlier in the day with a leg muscle tear.
In a somewhat disappointing twist on the third-to-last day of the Tour de France, Egan Bernal took the overall lead as officials called off Stage 19 midway through the course on Friday.
Bernal had been leading the field when Tour director Christian Prudhomme made the decision to end the stage early because of ice, mudslides, and flooding on the descent from the Col de l’Iseran, the highest point of the race this year. A sudden hailstorm had made conditions on the road too dangerous to continue.
Footage from the scene shows a mudslide flowing over the road where riders were supposed to travel:
Neutralizing the stage was clearly the correct choice. Ideally times would have been taken in Val-d’Isère, after the 15km descent from Col de l’Iseran, but no timing devices set up there.
— Race Radio (@TheRaceRadio) July 26, 2019
Instead of continuing to the planned summit finish in Tignes, riders had their times taken atop the Iseran to determine their positions on the General Classification. As a result, Bernal is the new leader of the Tour de France, stealing the yellow jersey from Julian Alaphilippe after it had sat on the Frenchman’s shoulders since the end of Stage 8. There was no Stage 19 winner.
Bernal, the 22-year-old Colombian and heavy favourite to win the Tour this year, broke away with Simon Yates on the upper slopes of the Iseran, a 2,770-metre hors catégorie climb that was meant to come about 50K from the finish. He then dropped Yates, a two-time stage winner, around the final kilometre to the summit, leading the field solo over what was to become the day’s final ascent.
Geraint Thomas, the returning champion and Bernal’s co-captain on Ineos, had been following in a small chase group with other overall favorites Steven Kruijswijk and Emanuel Buchmann, as well as out-of-contention GC riders like Rigoberto Urán, Vincenzo Nibali, and Mikel Landa. That group crested the top of the Iseran 55 seconds behind Bernal.
Julian Alaphilippe, meanwhile, broke from a third bunch behind them, riding away alone to put in time on the final stretch up the Iseran. A masterful descender, Alaphilippe had been hoping to gain back time on the long ride down from the summit, but it wasn’t to be as organisers neutralised the descent.
“I don’t think I can win the yellow jersey back,” Alaphilippe, who wore it for 14 days total, told French reporters after the stage. “I was beaten by something stronger than me, that’s how it is… I gave the maximum. I have no regrets. It was a dream to wear it. I carried this dream longer than I had hoped and I beat myself up every day to keep a hold of it.”
Race officials still must determine what kind of time bonuses to award at the new, unexpected finish line on the Iseran, so the final rankings after Stage 19 haven’t yet been released. Bernal will start on Saturday in the lead, and his advantage over Alaphilippe should land somewhere around 40 seconds. Thomas will start in third, a little more than a minute behind. Kruijswijk and Buchmann will follow him on the General Classification.
One thing is certain, however. Overall favourite Thibaut Pinot, who entered the day in fifth on the GC, was forced to abandon the race with a leg injury. The French climber showed pain on his face as he cracked early, losing more than four minutes to the stage leaders on the Montée d’Aussois, one of the smaller categorised climbs preceding the day’s real challenge on the Iseran.
Pinot tried to solider on, getting caught by sprinters when he should have been at the front of the field, and losing ever more time by the meter. He finally dropped out, succumbing to a muscle tear on his inner left leg that had bothered him on Stage 18, the Tour’s first day in the Alps.
His Groupama–FDJ team confirmed the injury:
Thibaut suffers from a muscular lesion on his left thigh. Yesterday, he finished stage 18 with a sharp pain and had troubles walking in the evening. His condition didn’t improve today, he just withdrew from the #TDF2019.
— Équipe Cycliste Groupama-FDJ (@GroupamaFDJ) July 26, 2019
Pinot left the course in a team car, clearly upset at the turn of events.
Whatever happens with the official standings after Friday’s truncated stage, the Tour will bring only one more competitive stage as the race wraps up three days in the Alps on Saturday. The rider who leads after tomorrow will presumably win it all when the Tour concludes in Paris on Sunday.
Should Bernal defend his jersey from teammate Thomas and his few other challengers, he’ll become the first Colombian to ever win the race.