Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers) finishes sixth on stage 9 of the Vuelta a España.

Bernal: ‘I have no idea what Ineos’ strategy will be going forward’

Egan Bernal was philosophical after limiting his losses on stage 9 of the Vuelta a España.

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Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers) finished ninth on stage 9 of the Vuelta a España, keeping the white jersey and moving up to fifth overall, but he visibly struggled on the final hors-category climb of Alto de Velefique. By the finish, he’d lost a further 1:11 to race leader Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma), adding to the 41-second deficit he had at the start of the day.

Ineos started the Vuelta with three possible leaders in Bernal, Richard Carapaz and Adam Yates. An off-day on stage 3 had already put Carapaz into domestique mode, but little more than bad luck has got in the way of Yates thus far, so the team still carried a multi-pronged approach into Sunday’s stage 9.

Shortly after the breakaway had finally escaped, Ineos took to the front of the peloton to set the pace on the earlier climbs – a statement of intent before the first hors-category ascent of the Vuelta.

“We left the bus with the best attitude this morning,” Bernal said after the stage. “We decided to go for it and to put our weight on the race. We knew the race was going to be very crazy and the idea was to put a strong rhythm on the long climb and tense up the race at the last pass, but the truth is that there were other strong riders and there is no other option than to turn the page.”

With the stage win going the way of Damiano Caruso (Bahrain-Victorious), a GC battle unfolded on the first hors-category climb of the Vuelta. At 13.1 km and with an average gradient of 7.2%, the hardest part of the climb was in the first 5 km, and that’s where Adam Yates initiated the attacks.

Ineos, Movistar and later Roglič himself fired off repeated accelerations that would thin out the group, then see it swell again, and repeat. Bernal was able to follow at first, but he started to lag in the latter half of the climb, and his head drooped as he approached the final kilometre alone.

“I felt good, but I was missing that change of pace,” he said. “I was going strong but when they accelerated I felt that I could not and they dropped me again. Yates tried to help me but at one point I already told him to make his race the best he could.”

Adam Yates finished sixth on the stage, 39 seconds after Roglič and 26 seconds ahead of Bernal, while Carapaz dropped out of contention completely. Yates now sits sixth on GC, putting him 15 seconds behind Bernal. For now, Bernal has the advantage but it remains to be seen whether Sunday was a sign of ailing form, a resurgence of his back trouble or just one bad day.

“I have no idea what Ineos’ strategy will be going forward,” Bernal said. “For now, tomorrow we are going to rest and see how we are doing.”

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