Geraint Thomas slipped a handful of seconds behind team-mate Egan Bernal on stage three’s punchy final climb at the 2019 Tour de France, separating the pair for the first time.
The Team Ineos leaders had been on the same time at the start of the day after a strong team time trial on stage two, but the subsequent Classics-style route caused a minor split between them.
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Reigning champion Thomas and 22-year-old Bernal are sharing the helm at the British WorldTour team after Chris Froome was seriously injured at the Critérium du Dauphiné.
Frenchman Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck – Quick-Step) rode to a magnificent solo victory on stage three as the race crossed into France, with Bernal and Thomas both holding their own in the front group at the foot of the final climb 26 seconds further down the road.
But the vicious rise to the line saw Bernal pull slightly ahead of Thomas, causing a split in the bunch that left Thomas five seconds adrift of his team-mate at the line, separating the pair on general classification for the first time.
Speaking after the stage, Thomas said: “We really had to bust a gut today. I did feel okay, though. Obviously we had a pretty tough day yesterday and those short, steep climbs were pretty solid. I think this stage will be good for me in the long run.
“I felt okay really considering that the short, steep climbs aren’t necessarily what I love, but I think we rode really well as a team. We were always in a good position, we communicated really well, so all in all it was a good day.
“I felt really good yesterday, but today I obviously wasn’t dancing up the climbs, but I was OK. I didn’t really want to do more than had to be done. I was aware that there were still bonus seconds up for grabs but I could see that some of the guys up there like Alaphilippe were really strong, so I thought I’d leave it to them and just get through as best as possible.”
Bernal said: “I didn’t really know what was going on behind me, so I couldn’t see where the other GC guys were.
“All I can say for sure is that it was a really hard day. Alaphilippe was really impressive. I tried to follow him with a view to going for the time bonuses, but it was impossible. I think everyone has suffered a lot today.
“After a TTT, it’s always hard the next day, and it was made more difficult because we had a tailwind all day so the pace was really fast, and the final few climbs were really steep. All those things combined meant it was a very hard day.”
Bernal finished 12th on the stage in an 11-rider group of one-day specialists like Greg Van Avermaet (CCC Team) and Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) who crossed 26 seconds behind Alaphilippe.
Thomas closed out the stage one position behind Bernal, 31 seconds behind the winner, in a large group that included Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale), Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) and Alejandro Valverde (Movistar).
The general classification was shaken up after the stage as Alaphilippe rode into yellow, Bernal now sixth at a 40 second deficit, with Thomas in seventh at 45 seconds.