The 19th stage of the Tour de France was 110-kilometers and three hours of drama. The attacks began when the flag was waved, signaling the start of what was meant to be a 153-kilometer day with a finish atop Montée des Tignes. EF Education First Pro Cycling aimed to get Alberto Bettiol, Rigoberto Urán and Mike Woods into the early escape – and succeeded.
“The idea with today’s breakaway was that I’d be there to drive the break to help Rigo jump up on the general classification,” explained Woods. “We were racing on the front today with the general classification in mind.”
While the breakaway riders worked to establish a gap, Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ), fifth overnight, was distanced from the peloton. The Frenchman eventually retired from the race, openly weeping as he climbed into his team car. His team later explained that Pinot had suffered a muscle tear in his thigh on Thursday.
By kilometer 40, a 29-rider group had taken shape and gained a minute advantage over the Ineos-led bunch. Up the Col de la Madeleine, Woods dictated a powerful pace, causing fissures in the breakaway. When Woods came unglued on the next climb, the Iseran, his work had distanced all but 12 riders from the leading group.
“We put all our cards on the table today, as I’m sure anyone watching on television could see,” said sport director Charly Wegelius. “It was all going how we hoped. Rigo was going how we hoped.”
The upper slopes of the Col d’Iseran, the route’s penultimate climb, set the stage for what EF Education First Pro Cycling CEO Jonathan Vaughters called “old school bike racing”. The breakaway shattered entirely. Egan Bernal (Ineos) attacked out of the yellow jersey group. Race leader Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-QuickStep) was distanced.
Three kilometers from the top of the Iseran, with 40 kilometers still to race, Urán, Bernal, Yates, Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) and Warren Barguil (Arkéa Samsic) lead up the hors categorie climb.
Bernal, with the most to gain, set an unmatchable tempo. He reached the top of Iseran alone. Yates followed. Urán crossed the summit behind Alaphilippe.
As the riders descended off Iseran and towards the final climb of the stage, viewers at home were shown images of a flash hailstorm, snow-covered roads and a mudslide. The road to the finish line had become unexpectedly impassable. Race organizers made the decision to immediately stop the stage. The top of the Iseran would be considered the finish line.
Bernal moved into the yellow jersey with a 45-second buffer on Alaphilippe. Defending champion Geraint Thomas (Ineos) lost one spot, now third, 1’16 behind his teammate. Urán moved up to seventh overall at 5’14.
“If you look at the images, it’s a self-explanatory position the organizers took,” said Wegelius. “Obviously from a decision like that, there will winners and losers because nobody could plan for that. All we can do is race again tomorrow.”
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