Bernal after Tour stage 18: Thomas told me to attack

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It was mostly a war of attrition in the GC group on Thursday’s stage 18 of the Tour de France until Ineos’s Egan Bernal made things interesting on the Col du Galibier. The 22-year-old Colombian put in a big attack on the Alpine climb and ultimately pulled away, putting yellow jersey Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) and the rest of the GC contenders in the rearview mirror.

A few minutes later, with Bernal out to a decent gap, his Ineos teammate Geraint Thomas put in an attack of his own. Thomas opened a small advantage and also distanced Alaphilippe, but the defending Tour champ was reeled in near the summit and then Alaphilippe caught back on on the descent.

Bernal stayed clear and moved into second overall on the day, but without Thomas’s big dig drawing the rest of the GC riders into action, Bernal might have enjoyed an even bigger gap. Nonetheless, according to Bernal, it was Thomas himself who called for the aggression.

“G told me to attack and make that jump and he said that then he would try,” Bernal said. “We’re a team and everything we do is because the director sportif in the car tells us to do it.”

Interestingly, Thomas phrased things at least a little bit differently when asked about the attack. Nonetheless, he echoed the sentiment that Ineos decided to take up the task of attacking the race leader when it became clear that the pressure was not high enough.

“We wanted a hard pace, and unfortunately we were running out of guys and it didn’t seem quite hard enough, so the call was made for Egan to jump and hopefully that would kick it off, but it didn’t really,” Thomas said.

Geraint Thomas on the Col du Galibier. Photo: Gruber Images

Once Bernal was clear, Deceuninck-Quick-Step’s Enric Mas took over at the front to drive the chase for his teammate Alaphilippe. Bernal gradually opened a decent gap, but Alaphilippe was still hanging on in the group, spurring Thomas to make his move.

“Mas rode and then they were just riding tempo again,” he said. “That’s why I had a little dig to see if anything would happen, but they obviously followed me over the top.”

With two challenging stages in the Alps still remaining and Alaphilippe still in yellow, the rest of the GC contenders are hoping the succession of hard climbs ultimately proves too great a challenge for the Frenchman. Alaphilippe may have caught back onto the GC group on the descent off the Galibier, and he may still be in yellow, but Thomas and Co. are banking on him cracking as they continue to shine at the high altitudes.

“I was feeling pretty good today. Two big days to come now,” Thomas said. “We kind of knew that today wouldn’t be a huge difference, but it’s certainly going to put some fatigue in everyone for the next two days.”

Heading into Friday’s stage 19, Alaphilippe has an overall lead of 1:30 to Bernal, with Thomas in third at 1:35. It remains to be seen whether Ineos will put the lion’s share of support behind one or another of its two top contenders. Bernal may be ahead and looking particularly strong, but he preferred to steer clear of any talk of being a clear team leader or the Tour favorite with three stages left.

“Anything can happen,” he said. “I think I’m up there, but winning the Tour is complicated.”

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