By Julien Pretot
COL DU GRAND COLOMBIER, France (Reuters) - Ineos-Grenadiers will need to go back to the drawing board if they are to stand a chance to win the Tour de France next year following defending champion Egan Bernal's spectacular failure on Sunday.
The Colombian cracked in the final ascent of the 15th stage, a terrifying 17.4-km climb at an average gradient of 7.1%, losing 7:20 to stage winner Tadej Pogacar and his fellow Slovenian and overall leader Primoz Roglic.
Bernal is now 13th overall, 8:25 off the pace and he will be wondering what he has to gain on the Tour in the final week within a team who are not even a pale shadow of their usually dominant self.
Ineos-Grenadiers, formerly known as Team Sky, had won all the editions of the Tour but one - when Chris Froome crashed out in 2014 - since 2012, crushing the field by setting a devilish pace on the climbs.
The tables have turned, however, as Roglic's Jumbo-Visma team took up that role, leaving Dave Brailsford's squad hanging for dear life.
"Everyone was expecting more from them," said Pogacar, who is second overall, 40 seconds behind Roglic.
"But Jumbo-Visma set such a high pace that nobody stood a chance."
A rival team's sports director who declined to be named told Reuters that Ineos-Grenadiers had been hiding their weakness since the beginning of the Tour, suggesting that Bernal had raced too much since the season resumed in August.
"Riding the Route d'Occitanie, the Tour de l'Ain and the Criterium du Dauphine, it was mission impossible, especially this year," he said.
"They hid their weakness on the climb to the Mont Aigoual (in the first week) and did the same on Friday (on the ascent to the Puy Mary."
He also added that the team were lacking the tactical nous of former sports director Nicolas Portal, who died of a heart attack earlier this year.
Also, Ineos-Grenadiers had a bizarre run-up to the Tour, with four-time champion Chris Froome struggling to find his touch again since a freak crash in June, 2019.
Froome was omitted from the squad, as well as Geraint Thomas because of poor form, but the 2019 champion has been in great shape in this week's Tirreno-Adriatico week long race as he gears up for the Giro d'Italia.
Ineos-Grenadiers might bounce back on the Giro, and they might look at next year with some hope, having signed Briton Adam Yates, the only rider who attacked Jumbo-Visma on the final climb on Sunday.
(Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Christian Radnedge)