Egan Bernal is the new leader of the Tour de France following a dramatic Stage 19 that was shortened due to a hailstorm at the finish that rendered the final climb to Tignes too dangerous to ride. Instead, the times were taken at the summit of the Col de l'Iseran, which the Team Ineos rider crested around 1 minute ahead of defending champion and team-mate Geraint Thomas and 2 minutes ahead of race leader Julian Alaphilippe of Deceuninck-Quick Step. On a day to break French hearts, Groupama-FDJ's Thibaut Pinot, who had been widely tipped for the overall win, abandoned during the stage due to a torn muscle.
It was an abrupt end to what had already been a dramatic day’s racing in this most extraordinary edition of the Tour de France, and particularly cruel for Alaphilippe, who on the early descent from the Iseran – at 2,770 metres, the highest point of this year’s race – was beginning to take time back from Bernal.
There’s no knowing whether the race leader would then have lost more time to his rivals for the overall crown on the final climb, and it could be that the sudden halt to the stage may end up saving a podium place for him, although that will be small comfort.
A number of riders seemed confused by the decision of the race organisers as the news was relayed to them by motorcycle outriders and the car of race director Christian Prudhomme.
Mitchelton-Scott’s Simon Yates, a member of the day’s break and seeking his third stage win of the race, crossed the Iseran on Bernal’s wheel and clearly wanted to ride on.
Behind, fellow escapees Vincenzo Nibali of Bahrain-Merida and EF Education First’s Rigoberto Uran, who had been joined by Thomas and GC rival Steven Kruijswijk, were in a heated discussion, the Colombian apparently wanting to continue.
The riders, at that point, would have been in the dark about the havoc wrought by the sudden hailstorm, but it swiftly became apparent that the decision to cut the race short was the correct one.
Pictures emerged on social media of the aftermath of a landslide that blocked the road, while helicopter footage showed a snowplough clearing huge amounts of sludge from the final climb.
The action in the GC group was kicked off by Thomas, who attacked with 6 kilometres of the climb to the summit of the Iseran remaining. Kruijswijk and Bernal went with him, the young Colombian then attacking again and sweeping up the remnants of the break to ride to into the yellow jersey, but not the stage win, which organisers decided not to award today.
The day’s earlier drama came as Pinot, who had earlier sought treatment from the race doctor’s car for a knee injury, was forced to abandon 40 kilometres into the stage due to a torn muscle, the Frenchman in tears as he got off his bike.
The reaction from his team-mates as they consoled him but road on made clear that it was a condition that was known before the stage, and one that he sadly proved unable to ride through.
Team Ineos principal Sir Dave Brailsford
First and foremost there has been a considerable landslide and you have to make sure everyone is alright. There is bike racing and then the health and safety of everyone.
Fortune favours the brave. We said we'd take it on. We thought we could make the difference on the Col de l'Iseran and I thought the guys rode really well.
Wout [Poels] really pushed the tempo, we had a plan, G [Geraint Thomas] went first and Egan [Bernal] went and really pushed it out over the top of the climb.
There was a downhill and another climb to come, We don't control the weather. I'm happy in one way but concerned in another, I hope everyone is OK.
New race leader Egan Bernal
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.
Tom Steels, Julian Alaphilippe’s sports director
We knew it was going to be a tough day, but it turned out to be also an unusual one.
On the descent, when Julian was going full gas, they told us to stop racing and I had to repeat it several times to Julian in the radio.
We realised we had lost the yellow jersey, but it’s a pity it was in such a strange way, just as it’s a pity that they had to take this decision after what has been a great Tour.
Anyway, it was a wise decision for the safety of the riders, you could see that from what was happening down the road. Despite what happened, we can be proud of our race.
The entire team fought hard, Julian gave everything and was a tremendous animator, and I’m sure people will remember this edition more for him than for that happened today.
Thibaut Pinot, who abandoned today
Yesterday, I gritted my teeth as much as I could. This morning I was in pain, and I hoped it would pass. That didn’t happen.
I’ve kept fighting, I believed in myself, I always had a little bit of hope that I would get over it, but that didn’t happen.
It’s the biggest disappointment of my career.
Defending champion Geraint Thomas
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.
Arson is one of those crimes that attracts very long prison sentences. That'd be hilarious.
Spot on, thanks. Just what I was hoping you'd say
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