Pogacar wins, Bernal destroyed on first major Tour mountain stage


Culoz (France) (AFP)

Ineos leader Egan Bernal's defence of the Tour de France was left in tatters after the Colombian lost several minutes on the first major mountain of the race Sunday, as rookie Slovenian Tadej Pogacar won stage 15.

Jumbo-Visma's Primoz Roglic retained the overall lead after the 17km ascent of the Grand Colombier mountain as his key challenger Bernal slipped to eight minutes and 25 seconds behind in the yellow jersey standings.

Bernal's Ineos formerly known as Sky have won seven of the last eight Tours and the mountain meltdown marks something of a turning point for the British team.

Dutch team Jumbo led the peloton up the Grand Colombier's 17km climb in their yellow and black outfits with a relentless high tempo, but Roglic brushed off any suspicions of doping from the press pack.

"At six a.m. this morning I had a complete doping control, and just had another one right now," Roglic said looking flabbergasted by the question.

"There is nothing to hide from my side. You can definitely trust me," Roglic added in his typical deadpan delivery.

Third on the day behind Australian Richie Porte, Roglic attacked first, but his 21-year old compatriot had the edge over the final 50m.

"Unfortunately I was a bit short on the last climb, but it was a great day for us," said the Jumbo leader.

Roglic leads Pogacar by 40 seconds with six stages remaining, with Rigoberto Uran in third at 1min 34sec, and Miguel Angel Lopez and Adam Yates rounding out the top five.

- Pogacar 'in the real world' -

Pogacar said he had bided his time and just kept up.

"I need to be conservative, the perfect scenario would have been to take the yellow jersey, but we live in the real world.

"I don't know what happened to Bernal, but Jumbo set a terrible pace and some riders paid for it," the UAE leader explained

Another casualty was Nairo Quintana, who also dropped out of the running for the overall lead.

"It was hot and all three climbs were really hard," Pogacar explained in his calm lucid and confident style.

Asked how he felt about the Tour's decisive penultimate stage 20 next Saturday, an individual time trail run over 20km of rolling terrain before a 7km climb up the Planche des Belles Filles, Pogacar said he could hardly wait.

"I did the re-con of the Planche but that was just a trial run. It'll be different after three weeks racing. I'm really looking forward to it though."

The race left Lyon with 157 riders, some of whom had their dreaded nasal swabs early in the day as the final Covid-19 testing round of this Tour started, and will be concluded on the rest day on Monday.

The first ascent of the Montee de la Selle de Fromontelle was the steepest and Ineos rider Luke Rowe, no wilting violet, shook his head in disbelief and laughed during one 18 percent section.

Sprinters and best friends double stage winner Caleb Ewan and green jersey wearer Sam Bennett kept each other company in a haggard struggle up the hill already several minutes adrift.

Often described as the Giant of the Jura the Grand Colombier was alternatively dubbed 'an excellent mountain' because of the breadth of the road offering so much room for manoeuvre.

But it proved the ruin of Ineos on Sunday as Bernal slipped off the back of the pack with 15km still to climb, few had predicted however the extent of his colossal 7 minutes loss over the remainder of the course.