PUY MARY, France (Reuters) - With race leader Primoz Roglic seemingly in control of his Tour de France destiny, defending champion Egan Bernal is hanging on for dear life and Friday’s 13th stage left him empty, but not despondent.
The Colombian could not sustain the pace set by Roglic and Tadej Pogacar in the last two kilometres of the short, yet brutal ascent to the Puy Mary where the average gradient rose above 11% and peaked at 15%.
Bernal finished 38 seconds behind the Slovenian duo, collapsing on his bike in search of air, and maybe answers too.
“Those Slovenians are next-levelling it somehow,” the 23-year-old told reporters.
Roglic retained the yellow jersey with a 44-second advantage over Pogacar, with Bernal slipping down to third, 59 seconds off the pace.
“I did my best, but the others were stronger than I was. I couldn’t do more than this. I felt very good all day,” he said.
“I looked at my numbers from today’s stage and they were almost my best ever. The rest simply went faster. We have to see what will happen in the coming days.
“From now on I will look at it day by day. We must continue to focus and manage our efforts. In any case, I’m not giving up. We have to keep morale high and we do our best.”
Without four-times champion Chris Froome and 2018 Tour winner Geraint Thomas in the squad after both had poor starts to the season, Bernal’s Ineos-Grenadiers team look far from their dominant selves.
It is the first time since 2011 - the year before Bradley Wiggins’s title - that Ineos-Grenadiers, formerly Team Sky, have been dominated on the road in the Tour de France.
The team has won every title since 2012 with the exception of 2014, when Chris Froome abandoned after a crash.
There is still some hope for Bernal, however, as he is faring better on the longer ascents of the Alps, where the Tour could be decided when the 17th stage takes the peloton 2,304 metres above sea level after a 21.5-km climb at an average gradient of 7.8%.
Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Toby Davis
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