Egan Bernal (Team Ineos) was outnumbered and outgunned on stage 2 of the Tour de l’Ain but the Tour de France contender held firm in the face of a dominant ride from Jumbo Visma to remain in contention ahead of Sunday’s final and most difficult stage.
Jumbo-Visma put the hammer down with 35km to go on stage 2 and dropped all but a handful of their riders on the Col des Menthières with Robert Gesink and Tom Dumoulin ensuring that Bernal lost Geraint Thomas and Chris Froome.
When George Bennett, Primoz Roglic, and Steven Kruiswijk lifted the pace only Bernal, Nairo Quintana (Arkea-Samsic), and Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo) remained and although Bernal was isolated he hung on to take second on the stage behind Roglic. With the final stage on Sunday Roglic leads Bernal by 10 seconds with surprise package Valerio Conti (UAE Team Emirates) in third.
“It was a really good stage for us,” Bernal said after the finish. “It was really warm and hot and looking ahead to the Tour de France it’s good to have these sorts of days, for us. In the final, we were at the front and we followed the moves.
“We followed the plan that we had from the morning, which was to just to try and not lose time on the GC.”
When the leaders approached the final climb of the day towards the finish and Kruiswijk attacked it looked as though Bernal would be forced to chase with Roglič and Bennett glued to his wheel but the Colombian was saved by Jonathan Castroviejo, who dragged himself back into contention on the descent before the final climb.
“Castro was up there with me and it was really good training for the Tour. He was really strong and a really good rider. There were just five or six riders left and he was there. I’m happy for him and I’m happy to have him at the Tour,” Bernal said.
The Tour de France is still several weeks away but Jumbo Visma appear to be growing in strength and confidence. They took the fight to Team Ineos on stage 2 and put significant time into both Thomas and Froome.
The Critérium du Dauphiné starts next week but Bernal didn’t appear overly concerned at this point. He fought for the stage win but Roglic’s sprint was simply too good for him. The race climbs the Grand Colombier on stage 3 and the GC could and should dramatically change once again.
“I’m here to train. For me, it’s difficult to beat Roglic in a sprint but you never know and you need to try. Finally I was second anyway, and I took six seconds in bonuses. For sure, they’ll be really important as I look to the stage tomorrow.”