Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas have not been good enough at the Critérium du Dauphiné, says Ineos sports director Gabriel Rasch.
The Norwegian gave his assessment on a tough day for the British team, with Egan Bernal dropping out before the start of stage four while Thomas and Froome were once again detached early from the GC group on another mountainous day in the Alps.
"I think definitely he needs to step up," Rasch said when asked whether assessment's on Froome's poor form this week are premature before we see him at the Tour. "The same with Geraint, he also needs to step up. They have not been good enough here."
Despite the criticism, Rasch went on to say that the pair had prepared as best as they could have for the block of racing in France, and that any suffering now will hopefully help them improve in time for the Tour in two week's time.
"They have prepared very well. They have done all that they can. So that's what we're hoping for, that this racing will help," Rasch said. "We have done a big block of racing in Occitanie, Tour de l'Ain, Dauphine, every day it's been like a one day race so it has been hard...I think nobody really knows before the last week of the Tour do they."
Egan Bernal was a surprise non-starter on the morning of stage four, with Rasch explaining the team didn't want to further stress a back injury and instead treat it properly before the young Colombian defends his Tour title.
"We felt he'd had the racing he needed, really. And he had his back injury that he's had from before as well. So we wanted to make sure that we have enough time between here and the start of the Tour to treat it properly and make sure he's one hundred per cent for the start in Nice."
There was confusion after team buses had spotted Bernal out riding on their way to the finish at the Mègeve airstrip, with Thomas Voeckler also saying on French television that he'd seen the young Colombian on the road.
"Yeah, he rode back to the hotel. No, I think he could have done the stage for sure," Rasch said, explaining the situation. "But it's not that much time from now to the Tour start so we want to make sure we have enough time to treat [his back] properly and get him one hundred per cent for the Tour because that's what's really important for us."
Thomas and Froome lost more time on stage four, the former finishing 13 minutes behind the GC group while Froome shipped a further ten minutes.
"Geraint wanted to save his legs for tomorrow so let's hope he has something in the tank tomorrow," Rasch said. "I think they are continuing to progress a little bit, step-by-step. They're not there yet but I'm optimistic they will be a step above [where they currently are] in Nice [at the start of the Tour]."
Rasch added that he was surprised by how high the level of racing had been, with Jumbo-Visma showing they are ready to break Ineos' stranglehold on the French Grand Tour, but that as the Dutch team succumbed to multiple crashes on stage four, that bike racing is never easy.
"I'm a bit surprised the level of everybody is super high. Seems like everybody has been training really well in lockdown and I think all the best riders, or pretty much all the best riders, are here now and so the level is very, very high. I hope after this race we will take a step up as a team.
"Two days ago we were thinking, or one could think, that Jumbo-Visma are invincible. But stuff happens. It is super difficult to be the strongest team, to defend a lead. But they do seem like they're really on the top of their game."
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Hi. I'm Cycling Weekly's Weekend Editor. I like writing offbeat features and eating too much bread when working out on the road at bike races.
Before joining Cycling Weekly I worked at The Tab and I've also written for Vice, Time Out, and worked freelance for The Telegraph (I know, but I needed the money at the time so let me live).
I also worked for ITV Cycling between 2011-2018 on their Tour de France and Vuelta a España coverage. Sometimes I'd be helping the producers make the programme and other times I'd be getting the lunches. Just in case you were wondering - Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen had the same ham sandwich every day, it was great.
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