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Bernal: Geraint Thomas told me to ride my own Tour de France

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Egan Bernal (Team Ineos) with Emanuel Buchmann (Bora-Hansgrohe)

Egan Bernal (Team Ineos) with Emanuel Buchmann (Bora-Hansgrohe)
(Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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Egan Bernal on Prat d'Albis

Egan Bernal on Prat d'Albis
(Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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Egan Bernal

Egan Bernal
(Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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Emanuel Buchmann (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Egan Bernal (Team Ineos) cross the line

Emanuel Buchmann (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Egan Bernal (Team Ineos) cross the line
(Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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Pinot drops Bernal on stage 15

Pinot drops Bernal on stage 15
(Image credit: Bettini Photo)

The final day in the Pyrenees at this year's Tour de France produced another blockbuster with Simon Yates winning the stage and Thibaut Pinot providing his best case yet as to why he will be France's next Tour winner and not Julian Alaphilippe.

However, behind the first round of headlines is the intriguing issue of leadership at Team Ineos after Egan Bernal outclimbed his teammate and last year's winner, Geraint Thomas, for the second day in succession.

Thomas remains second overall and cut Alaphilippe's lead to 1:35 but the Welshman was unable to respond when Pinot attacked with 6km to go. Bernal, on the other hand, followed and although he was dropped before the line and Thomas put time into several other riders, the Colombian closed the gap between himself and the Welshman to just 27 seconds.

There are no more time trials between here and Paris and after Monday's rest day, the race heads towards the Alps. Team Ineos, who are normally in full control of the race at this point, will be working overtime behind the scenes in determining who to back. In the public arena they might roll out the old adage 'that the road will decide' but the defending champions do not have such a luxury in this year's race. Sooner or later, in order to crack their rivals, they must set a course and stick to it.

On stage 15, as Geraint Thomas stated, they were caught between a rock and hard place. When Bernal was able to follow Pinot, last year's winner was forced to ride at his own tempo. The Welshman attacked with 1.5km to go but by then Pinot's star was shining bright and Bernal's was flickering through the mist atop the summit finish above Foix.

"Pinot really had pace and then he attacked and I felt really good," he said. "On the second to last climb, Geraint told me I could do my own race so I was trying to follow Pinot and just stay on his wheel, because Geraint was behind. I think that was a good moment for us.

"But at the final Pinot was the strongest and you can't do too much when a guy is stronger than you. I think we did a really good race, we tried to not lose too much time and we have a rest day tomorrow and then the Alps so a lot of racing to come," Bernal said as he waxed lyrical with the media in his white jersey.

Co-leaders

"I think that we don't have one real leader," he said of the leadership situation between him and Thomas before qualifying that statement with praise.

"I think that he is more of a leader than me and at this moment, he's second in the GC, he won the last Tour but we are really honest between us. Like today and yesterday, he told me to ride my own race. But if there is a moment where I need to wait for him then for sure I will wait because I have a lot of respect for him, he's the last winner so no problem."

Praise and respect have never won a Tour title and Bernal, who is now fifth on GC, is a genuine contender for at least the podium. His time trial in Pau was disappointing, but his mindset is clearly fixed on taking each stage as it comes. The communication between him and Thomas at least seems amicable but the climbs in the Alps are still to come.

"I prefer to not think about winning the Tour because that's a really big thing. I just try to do my best and try to help the team. To win the Tour is something really big but I prefer to go day by day, I did my best today and then tomorrow again. To win the Tour is something really big.

"I don't know [if Pinot will be as strong in the Alps]. I think that we will arrive in the Alps with a lot of kilometres and a really hard race so I think it will be different and also really hard, too. We need to see, I can't imagine how he will be."

The team dynamic and body language on display during Monday's press conference in Nimes may offer a fascinating insight into the team dynamic at play but Bernal stressed that the squad's primary goal is to win the race. That might be the case, but sooner or later the team will need to make a choice as to who has the best chance.

"No I don't think [the team dynamic changes], because I lost time in the TT and it changed nothing. Yesterday he lost a bit of time and it changed nothing, and today again. I think that we have good communication between us. He's pretty honest, me too, in some points of the race I'm also pretty gassed for sure, and I will tell him. And yeah, we need to win the race as Team Ineos, not Geraint, not Egan, or Kwiatkowski. It's about the team, so I think that you need to be honest."