Egan Bernal (Team Ineos) called for calm at the finish of the Tour de l'Ain, despite finishing second to his main Tour de France rival, Primož Roglič, and seeing his team outclassed on every stage of the three-day race.
Roglič finished second, first and first again in the race to seal the overall by 18 seconds with Nairo Quintana rounding out the podium, and while the Tour de France is several weeks away it was the nature of Roglič's domination – and that of his team Jumbo Visma – that stood out.
The Dutch outfit finished the race with three riders in the top five, while Tom Dumoulin returned to racing for the first time since last June.
On stage 3, Bernal had his team set a blistering pace on the approach to the final climb of the Grand Colombier, with Geraint Thomas used up before the road began to point upwards. Andrey Amador, Chris Froome, and then the impressive Jonathan Castroviejo all took turns on the front as Bernal looked to put Roglič's race lead under pressure. However the quartet of Roglič, Dumoulin, George Bennett and Steven Kruijswijk held firm.
Bernal was put in difficulty at several points on the long ascend of the Grand Colombier but he was able to rally towards the end, and his attack at least isolated Roglic from the rest of his team. The race leader responded with an acceleration of his own and it was enough to drop Bernal before the line.
"Today we showed that we're here to ride a very fast pace as well," Bernal said at the finish.
"We did our race and we should he happy with how it went, not just here but in La Route d'Occitanie. Our big goal is the Tour."
When asked if he was worried by the performances of both Thomas and Froome, the Colombian looked to ease the pressure on his team's shoulders. The 2019 Tour winner instead reminded the gathering media that the Tour de France was still several weeks away and that the Tour de l'Ain was only a warm-up race ahead of the main event.
"No, I don't think so. This is a race to prepare for the Tour. Some other big riders from other teams were also dropped early today. That doesn't mean that they won't be up there in the GC at the Tour de France," he said.
"We need to be calm and to know that we're just here to train. For sure we want to do good training but they will be there at the Tour de France."
Jumbo Visma already know their Tour de France line-up, having announced their eight-man team months ago. Team Ineos on the other hand have some key decisions to make, not least over Chris Froome.
The four-time Tour winner showed flashes of form on the final ascent but a sterner test will come later in the week when he Bernal, and Thomas will seek revenge at the Critérium du Dauphiné. As for Jumbo-Visma, they have the momentum, but as Bernal rightly pointed out, the Tour is still weeks away.
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