The finish to stage 19 of the Tour de France was suspended after a flash snowstorm caused a mudslide and left the road to the finish at Tignes too dangerous to race on, putting Team Ineos’s Egan Bernal in the yellow jersey in bizarre circumstances.
Race director Christian Prudhomme acted swiftly as images emerged of a snowplough shovelling snow and meltwater off the road several kilometres ahead of the riders, on the descent from the highest point in the Tour de France, the Col de l’Iseran.
The message come over race radio that the stage would be neutralised, before confirmation soon after that it had been suspended, much to the confusion of the riders still going along in dry conditions.
Race commissaires decided times would be taken from the top of the Iseran summit, the day’s penultimate climb, and that there would be no official stage winner.
Bernal had attacked and was first over the top, leaving behind his team-mate Geraint Thomas along with other GC contenders including Steven Kruijswijk and Emanuel Buchmann, while the yellow jersey of Julian Alapihlippe was even further back.
The Colombian started the day a minute and a half behind Alaphilippe but was more than two minutes clear on the summit and so takes over the yellow jersey, making him a huge favourite to win the Tour de France with one competitive stage to go.
Team Ineos manager Dave Brailsford said: “First and foremost, there’s been a considerable landslide and you’ve got to make sure everybody’s alright.
“Fortune favours the brave. Today was the day we thought we could make the difference, on the Iseran. The guys rode really well. They had a plan and they executed it. Gee went first, Egan went over the top. It was nice to get to the top of the Iseran in that situation, but there was a lot of downhill to come. We don’t control the weather. I’m very happy in one way, but still concerned for everyone.”
Asked whether Ineos benfitted from the scenario, Brailsford said: ”If you take what you’ve seen today and play it forward, I’m sure Alaphilippe would have made a bit of time on the descent but if he caught the group in front, they wouldn’t have helped him. He would have had to do the work. We’ll never know.
“What worked in our favour [wasn’t a natural disaster], it was Gee and Egan attacking.”
It means Bernal takes a lead of 45 seconds over Alaphilippe into stage 20 to Val Thorens on Saturday, with Thomas in third overall at +1min 13sec and Kruijswijk fourth at +1min 15sec. Ineos will almost certainly call on Thomas to support Bernal, meaning he is in a strong position to clinch his first yellow jersey, aged just 22, while Kruijswijk and Alaphilippe are likely to fight for the podium.
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