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Bernal's claim to Tour leadership grows, but has the Team Ineos train hit the buffers?

Joseph Delves
10 Aug 2020

A rough three days for Team Ineos at the Tour de l'Ain

In this weirdly truncated season, now’s about the time for sportswriters to start making prognostications about the Tour de France. At three days long, the little-known Tour de l'Ain would normally be passed over by many of the big names. However, this year it attracted many GC contenders – and ended up in a proper scrap.

With Team Ineos bringing all three of their currently-active Tour de France winners – Geraint Thomas, Chris Froome and Egan Bernal – it was only Bernal who, by the end of the weekend, looked like he might repeat the feat.

It was Jumbo-Visma’s three prospects for the Tour – in the shape of Primož Roglič, Steven Kruijswijk and Tom Dumoulin, plus the rest of the boys in yellow – who looked the strongest.

So while Bernal seems to have already settled any questions about who’ll lead Team Ineos at the Tour de France, with both Froome and Thomas looking in shaky form with just a few short weeks to go, the bigger question is: what will be the state of the team he leads?

Three stages

Following an opening sprint stage, where Roglič still managed to finish second, both days in the mountains were pretty torrid for Team Ineos.

Given the normal dominance of the Ineos train, at times it looked like the British team had swapped their red tops for the yellow shirts of Jumbo-Visma.

On the mountainous Stage 2, both Jumbo-Visma and Team Ineos found themselves with three riders out front approaching the top of the penultimate climb.

However, of Ineos's prospective leaders, only Bernal was there, supported by Andrey Amador and Jonathan Castroviejo. With Jumbo-Visma’s Dumoulin having done a job in catching the breakaway and cooking both Froome and Thomas in the process, Roglič and Kruijswijk found themselves supported late in the stage by the ever-reliable George Bennett.

Able to burn off both Amador and Castroviejo before the summit, Bernal briefly found himself the only Team Ineos rider in a six-rider group containing three Jumbo-Visma riders.

It was only a spirited ride by Castroviejo who bridged back on that stopped him getting too lonely. Still, with Kruijswijk repeatedly attacking up the final climb, come the finish Roglič was able to nip around Bernal and take the win.

On Stage 3, Team Ineos had a stab at making things right. Now well down on time, Thomas spent the early part of the race on the front keeping the pace high for Bernal. Done before the final climb of the Grand Colombier, Froome, Amador, and Castroviejo also took turns leading Bernal.

However, Roglič, Dumoulin, Bennett and Kruijswijk remained unshakable.

Repeatedly attacked, Bernal looked uncomfortable but was able to exert enough pressure to draw Roglič away from his teammates inside of the final kilometre. However, despite an attack from Bernal, come the finish, the Jumbo-Visma rider had easily enough left to take the win.

What now for Team Ineos?

A three-day UCI Europe Tour 2.1-rated race might be a small sample on which to base big predictions. But in this jumbled up season, few of the top riders have the luxury of keeping their cards close to their chests. Certainly, the bookies were watching, with many now offering Roglič as Tour de France winner on the same 2-1 odds as Bernal.

With three former winners fighting for leadership, Bernal seems to have at least settled the debate as to who’ll lead Team Ineos at the Tour de France, which is due to start on Saturday 29th August.

With questions over whether to leave Froome behind to create a simpler team dynamic, it’s possible Bernal’s dominance will make this a non-issue. Despite finishing over 11 minutes back, Froome still looked good at times and would undoubtedly be an asset to the squad, with the same being true of Thomas.

The form and dynamic of the support crews for the big GC men will also need to be dialled in quicker this year. On this front, Castroviejo looked strong, and while Richard Carapaz hurt his shoulder racing in Poland, he also looked good and may well get a call-up.

In contrast to the jockeying at Team Ineos, Jumbo-Visma have long been set on a three-pronged approach at the Tour. This will see Dumoulin, Roglič and Kruijswijk designated leaders, with support likely to come from an in-form Wout van Aert, plus assistance from Bennett, Tony Martin, Laurens De Plus, Sepp Kuss or Robert Gesink.

The Tour’s traditional warm-up race, the five-day Critérium du Dauphiné starts this Wednesday. A final opportunity for tinkering ahead of the delayed Tour de France, by the end of it we should know who’ll be heading to the start line on 29th August.

Whatever happens, early indications suggest we're facing one of the most open battles for the yellow jersey in a long time.