An injured Egan Bernal, his Tour de France title defense already extinguished, lost even more time in the 16th stage on Tuesday as the overall leaders prepared for the event’s highest summit finish on Wednesday.
Bernal, a Colombian who last year became the first South American to win the Tour, dropped off the back of peloton near the start of the day’s penultimate climb.
He fell from eight minutes behind in the overall standings to 19:04 back of leader Primoz Roglic, reportedly citing knee and back problems.
“It’s a bit of a test of pride, passion, and character now,” Ineos team manager Dave Brailsford said, according to VeloNews.com. “As far as we are concerned, this is the first day of trying to win the Tour next year.”
Ineos Grenadiers’ streak of five straight Tour crowns dating to 2015 — when it was Team Sky led by Chris Froome — will end when the three-week race finishes in Paris on Sunday. Froome, a four-time Tour winner leaving for a new team next season, and 2018 Tour champion Geraint Thomas were both left off the Ineos Tour squad.
The justification was that neither was physically ready for a three-week Grand Tour, especially Froome, coming back from a June 2020 crash into the wall of a house that nearly ended his career.
“People are entitled to their opinions, but I didn’t gamble with the selection,” Brailsford said, according to Cyclingnews.com. “They were big decisions. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t. I’m sure that people have a lot to say, but they’re not privy to the facts that I’ve got.”
In the four remaining competitive stages, Roglic and Tadej Pogacar are expected to duel to become the first Slovenian to win the Tour.
Roglic, of the new dominant team Jumbo-Visma, kept his 40-second lead over younger Pogacar on Tuesday. Pogacar attacked twice in the last two kilometers of the minor finishing climb, but Roglic followed him each time.
Sixteen minutes earlier, German Lennard Kämna of Bora-Hansgrohe won the stage from a breakaway, but he has no hope of making the overall podium.
The Tour continues Wednesday with the 17th stage, a more daunting mountain day starting at the 1968 Winter Olympic host of Grenoble and finishing at Meribel, a site of 1992 Olympic Alpine skiing, with the highest summit finish of the Tour.
NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold coverage starts at 6 a.m. ET.
Roglic and Pogacar both called Wednesday the “Queen Stage,” or the most demanding.
“Tadej is the closest rival, and I expect he’ll try to attack,” Roglic said, according to Cyclingnews.com. “The other guys will probably look after each other.”
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