Roglic extends Tour lead on queen stage as Bernal exit adds to Brailsford woes

By on September 16, 2020

Primoz Roglic increased his overall lead in the Tour de France at the monumental summit of the Col de la Loze in the Savoie Alps, after seeing off his closest rival and compatriot, Tadej Pogacar, and inching closer to final victory in Paris on Sunday.

“That was a really brutal climb,” Roglic, leader of the Jumbo-Visma team, said, after extending the gap on Pogacar, of UAE Team Emirates, to 57secs. “The last three or four kilometres [of Col de la Loze] don’t compare with anything. I’m glad that this one is behind us now. On this climb, every metre counts.”

But Pogacar has not yet accepted defeat. “It’s not finished yet,” he said. “Tomorrow [Thursday] is a really hard stage and there is still the time trial. Anything can happen, we can still try.”

While Colombian Miguel Angel López, of the Astana team, who started this Tour tangling with road signs after crashing on the opening stage on the Côte d’Azur, soloed to victory on the Tour’s highest peak, in what is widely known as the queen stage, defending champion Egan Bernal was packing his bags after bowing to the inevitable, as back pain finally snuffed out any hopes he retained of making it to Paris.

Bernal had described himself as “screwed up on all sides” after finishing Tuesday’s stage to Villard-de-Lans in which he lost 27mins to stage winner Lennard Kämna and slumped to 16th overall, over 19mins behind race leader Roglic.

“I was suffering all day with back pain, and it was increasing,” he told Spanish media on Tuesday evening. “On the last climb, it switched to my knee.” That conflicted, however, with what Ineos Grenadiers team principal, Dave Brailsford had said when speaking prior to that day’s stage.

“He’s not in pain. It’s more a case of assessing what went wrong, which is what we are doing,” Brailsford said on Tuesday. On Wednesday morning, however, Brailsford said that it was “wiser for him to stop racing.”

Miguel Angel López celebrates victory on stage 17 of the Tour de France. Photograph: Stuart Franklin/Getty Images

Whatever ails Bernal, and some have speculated that changes in his personal life may also have had an impact, it has so far been a year to forget for the 23-year old. He started his season racing in the Colombian national championships but crashed at high speed while descending.

Soon after that, plans to race in Europe fell by the wayside, due to Team Ineos withdrawing from competition on 4 March, following the death of long-term sports director Nico Portal and the spread of coronavirus. After a lengthy lockdown, the Colombian government gave permission for a charter flight to carry the nation’s cyclists, including Bernal, back to Europe on 20 July.

Bernal appeared on course, after winning the hardest stage and the overall classification at the Route d’Occitanie, his first race back. But at both the Tour de l’Ain and the Critérium du Dauphiné, his first confrontations with Roglic and the Jumbo-Visma team, it was already clear that he was out of sorts, as were Geraint Thomas and Chris Froome.

Bernal left the Ineos Grenadiers team hotel on Wednesday morning to return to his home in Monaco and is now expected to race in the final Grand Tour of the rejigged season, the Vuelta a España, which starts on 20 October and in which Froome is also expected to return for Ineos Grenadiers.

Roglic meanwhile, is having to adjust to the questions that are usually asked of long-term wearers of the yellow jersey. While he stated that the support of Slovenian fans at the roadside gave him “something extra,” he was unable to elaborate on the effects of the controversial Ketones supplement, that he acknowledged is still being used by his team.

In January the head of Dutch anti-doping, Herman Ram, told De Limburger that he was “uncomfortable” with the Jumbo-Visma team’s use of the supplement. “It is a legal nutrition but, at the same time, too little is known about the possible health consequences,” Ram said.

“That makes it a grey area. It is not on the doping list, but if we receive questions from athletes, we advise them not to use ketones. I find it uncomfortable that Jumbo-Visma does.”

“We are still using it,” Roglic said. “For the real effects it is hard to say. I think if you ask all the riders, we are all tired but on the other hand we want to do the best possible in all aspects, so everything is just working towards that.”

Speaking to Belgian media, his teammate Wout van Aert said that questions about trust and credibility, already put to Roglic by the Guardian last Sunday, showed a “lack of respect.”

“I think it’s a pity that you use another journalist to ask me this question,” Van Aert said, when asked about his own credibility by Het Laatste Nieuws. “It’s very bad that this question always comes up. Primoz was third in the Giro, he won the Vuelta, so he hasn’t come out of nowhere. Neither have I come out of nowhere. On top of that, I have had many doping controls in this Tour de France.”

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