Horrendous weather halts stage 19 early as Bernal takes yellow – Tour de France

Tour de France 2019

Stage 19

Colombia’s Egan Bernal moved into the yellow jersey in controversial and chaotic circumstances after landslides and a catastrophic hail storm forced Tour de France organisers to cut short Stage 19 before the final climb to Tignes.

Confusion reigned over the Tour on Friday as the most engrossing stage of the race so far was curtailed while Team Ineos youngster Bernal led having dropped his general classification rivals – including the yellow jersey Julian Alaphilippe and teammate Geraint Thomas, the defending champion – with a stinging attack on the Col de l’Iseran.

With Deceuninck-QuickStep’s Alaphilippe – riding his fifteenth day in yellow – trailing lone leader Bernal by over two minutes atop the summit of the highest peak of the Tour, the news soon filtered through on the descent towards the eye of the storm that the stage has been neutralised.
The riders – upon whom not even a drop of rain had fallen since the start of the 126.5km stage from Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne – met the decision with incredulity, oblivious to the frantic actions of diggers working on clearing the road ahead.

Having caught Bernal on the descent, Briton’s Simon Yates – the double stage winner from the Mitchelton-Scott team – gesticulated wildly with an official on the back of a motorcycle; Colombian Rigoberto Uran EF Education First argued with fellow rider Vincenzo Nibali of Bahrain Merida in the Thomas chase group behind.

Stopped mid-flow on the long descent during which he would have hoped to slash his deficit to Bernal ahead of the decisive final climb, Alaphilippe, meanwhile, turned round and looked at his team car with a look of dismay on his face following news that the times for the stage would be taken at the top of the penultimate climb, the Iseran.

That gave Bernal the notional stage win by five seconds – and the yellow jersey by 45 seconds over Alaphilippe as the Frenchman conceded the race lead to the Colombian with just one competitive day of the race remaining, Saturday’s 130km Stage 20 from Albertville to Val Thorens. The officials later confirmed that there would be no winner of Stage 19.

It capped a torrid day for the host nation, whose great hope Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) earlier abandoned the race in tears after succumbing to a knee injury which saw him distanced on the first of five categorised climbs.

Pinot, who was sitting in fifth place on GC following his triumph on the Tourmalet, received treatment by the race doctor before climbing off his bike and slumping into his team car with 87km to go. The joys of Bastille Day less than a week earlier suddenly seemed far away.

At the point of Pinot’s withdrawal, a large break of 29 riders was forming off the front of the main pack, with Italy’s Damiano Caruso (Bahrain Merida) going on to scale the next two peaks in pole position to pile the pressure on another Frenchman, the polka dot jersey Romain Bardet (Ag2R-La Mondiale).

Thibaut Pinot is consoled by a teammate as he abandons the race.

But the break was given very little leeway by the slimming peloton, which hit the mammoth Col d’Iseran with everything left to play for – and the lure of an eight-second time bonus over the summit for the favourites.

It was Bernal’s teammate Thomas who drew first blood on the highest paved pass in the Alps, the Welshman’s attack putting Alaphilippe under immediate pressure.

Dutchman Steven Kruijswijk (Jumbo-Visma) put in the next attack as he rode clear with Thomas and the German Emanuel Buchmann (Bora-Hansgrohe). Bernal soon joined the party as Alaphilippe sunk like a stone, the elastic keeping his yellow jersey dream alive finally stretched to the limit.

Following teammate Thomas’ softener, Bernal then put in his decisive dig, the 22-year-old dropping all the GC favourites as he rode on to join the remaining riders from the break – Yates, Uran, Nibali and the French national champion Warren Barguil (Arkea-Samsic).

Bernal and Yates dropped the others 2km from the summit before the youngest rider in the race soloed clear just as the time gaps put him into the virtual yellow jersey.

Picking up the eight bonus seconds and the Souvenir Henri Desgrange prize over the summit, Bernal’s lead was 50 seconds over the chasing Thomas group, with the battling Alaphilippe passing over at 2’07”.

But with 37km – and a long descent to the foot of the final climb – remaining, anything could have happened in what was shaping up to be an electric finale.

The weather, however, was having other ideas, the stage suddenly called off as the most engrossing Tour in recent years was brought to a standstill as it took on another twist, albeit one which may shroud the outcome in doubt for the days, months and years to come.

It took a long time for the dust to settle and for the road to be cleared so that the riders could finally make it to the finish town at Tignes for the formalities and stage presentations.

The provisional decision by the race jury saw Bernal finish the stage ahead of Yates and Barguil – but no winner was declared. The Colombian also swapped his white jersey for yellow with a 45-second lead over Alaphilippe going into Stage 20.

A dejected Julian Alaphilippe after the neutralisation of the stage which saw him lose the maillot jeune.

Bernal’s teammate Thomas is third at 1’03”, Kruijswijk fourth at 1’15” and Buchmann fifth at 1’42” – the race still evenly poised ahead of a final day in the Alps which fans will hope explodes, if not meteorologically then on a sporting plane.

What this short and spiky 126.5km key stage lacked in length it made up in vertical gain with the riders set to tackle the Alps’ highest paved pass in the form of the fearsome Col d’Iseran.

As expected the moves came from the gun with a deluxe break featuring Italy’s Vincenzo Nibali going clear on a small uncategorised climb in the Maurienne valley.

The 2014 Tour champion from Bahrain Merida was joined by Ireland’s Dan Martin (UAE Team Emirates) and Spaniards Pello Bilbao (Astana) and birthday boy Jesus Herrada (Cofidis) to open up a small gap ahead of the Cat.3 Cote de Saint-Andre.

Martin led the quartet over the summit with a small gap on the pack, which had exploded in a flurry of activity following attacks from world champion Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and Colombian Rigoberto Uran (EF Education First).

Discover more from Marking The Spot

Subscribe to get the latest posts to your email.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *