Dave Brailsford spoke of how deeply he missed the former Team Sky and Ineos sports director Nicolas Portal as a memorial in an outdoor cycling museum was unveiled in the deceased man's honour at Pau on Sunday.
Portal passed away in March aged 40 after playing a crucial role in the outfit's seven Tour de France wins.
His widow Magalie and two children were present as Francois Bayrou, the mayor of Pau where Portal lived and stage nine of the Tour started on Sunday, unveiled a metal and glass interactive tablet in his honour, alongside others dedicated to other cycling greats, in an outdoor multimedia park where the memorable moments of each tour are recorded.
Brailsford recruited his multilingual and widely popular French former rider as sports director back in 2011.
On Sunday he spoke of the sense of loss.
"It's been an emotional Tour and an emotional year," Brailsford told AFP near the start of Sunday's stage.
"You know Nico worked with us for a long time," he said measuring his words.
"He was with us for ten years and he played a central role in our team," Brailsford said of Portal, often described as the man in the riders' ear pieces as he was the avuncular presence who guided the riders in their difficult moments.
"You now feel that he's not here obviously," said Brailsford.
"Rather than think about it in cycling terms or professional ones, we just miss him, we miss him as a person rather than anything about us.
"It's not about what we are not getting from him in a work context, it's just that we miss him as a person," Brailsford said visibly moved.
- 'Not an easy job' -
The team principal, never one to look back too long, also had words of praise for how the new sports director Gabriel Rasch was fitting in on the 2020 Tour.
"It's not an easy job for anybody to do, but everybody has got right behind him and he's doing a great job so far.
"I respect him because those are very difficult shoes to step into. And he's doing that with the support of the team," Brailsford said.
Ineos are attempting to win this Tour with defending champion Egan Bernal, who is fifth place just 13 seconds adrift of Briton Adam Yates.
Brailsford said everything was going according to plan early on at this year's race.
"So far so good," he said.
"Kind of what we expected really," said the man who has masterminded seven wins with Portal as his right hand man.
"It's been solid and hard, it's going to be a race of attrition," he said of the three-week struggle in which riders have 21 stages to survive and a favourite can fall out of contention with one bad day.
"People will be going off the back and off the front," he concluded.
Brailsford and Portal helped Bradley Wiggins to his Grande Boucle win in 2012, Chris Froome to wins in 2013, 2015, 2016 and 2017, Geraint Thomas in 2018 while Bernal in 2019.