After a build-up and opening week where his form was questioned, Egan Bernal emerges from the Pyrenees steeled to defend his Tour de France title.
Having been among the GC contenders that forfeited 40 seconds to Tadej Pogačar on stage eight, the UAE Team Emirates rider clawing back time he had previously lost in the crosswinds, the Ineos rider looked more assured on stage nine as he worked with the young Slovenian and his older compatriot Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) to distance their other GC rivals.
"I am very satisfied, above all due to the sensations. We’ll say it’s a good result for me," Bernal said, throwing the flowers from his white jersey podium to a Colombian fan at the side of the road. "I might have lost a few seconds in time bonuses, but I stay content from the sensations during the stage. I felt a lot better on the climb. I could enjoy things a little more on the bike, and this gives me a little more confidence in the next phase of the Tour."
Bernal trails Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) by 21 seconds, all of which the Slovenian has picked up through bonus seconds, possessing a powerful sprint his Colombian rival can't match.
However, the Tour transfers to the Alps next weekend, which is where Bernal won yellow last year, and while he says his form is still not perfect, he aims to take back time on his Jumbo-Visma rival before the time trial.
"When we arrive in the Alps there will be more tired riders, that’s what I am taking away from the Pyrenees," Bernal assessed. "I have a little bit more confidence. I can’t say that my form right now is perfect. Obviously, I am 21 seconds behind Roglič, a rider who is very strong in the time trial, and with the time trial on the penultimate day it’s obvious that I have to recover that time."
The Jumbo-Visma versus Ineos battle at the Tour de France, which has been built-up since the start of the year, now boils down to Bernal versus Roglič.
"I don’t want to say I am in a perfect situation, but I am calm, I am feeling good, and in this moment of the race, after nine stages, that’s the most important — to feel good, to feel motivated, and I am recovering well," Bernal said. "We’ll keep going day by day, keep doing the right things, keep on our feet on the ground, and try to enjoy the race, and hopefully be respond in the most important moments of the race."
Bernal could face a Slovenian alliance in the mountains to come, with Tadej Pogačar taking time on the GC riders on stage eight before outsprinting them to the victory on stage nine.
After some had questioned Bernal's form before the Tour and over the opening days, Pogačar says the Colombian is looking stronger.
"For sure Bernal looked better today, he was really strong in the climb," the young Slovenian said. "I saw their faces, I knew I couldn't shake them easily, I think this Tour will be even more interesting in the next weeks."
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