A late attack on the summit finish of stage 6 at the Tour de Suisse on Thursday netted the overall race lead for Colombian Egan Bernal, who took over the Team Ineos leadership after 2018 Tour de France winner Geraint Thomas crashed out of the race earlier in the week.
Bernal took the bit in his mouth on the final climb to Flumserbegr, jumping away from a select group that was in pursuit of solo leader Antwan Tolhoek (Jumbo-Visma). Bernal crossed the line just 17 seconds behind the Dutchman to take second on the stage and move into the overall lead by 12 seconds over Bahrain-Merida's Rohan Dennis with three stages remaining, including a 19.2km individual time trial on the penultimate day.
"I went full gas in the final, and I think that’s a really good result for us," Bernal said in an interview posted on the team's website. "The plan this morning was to try to take yellow. We did it. The final was really, really good for me."
Tolhoek was part of the large early breakaway and went into the final climb with a two-minute advantage over the chasers while the remnant of the breakaway were spread out on the mountain road behind him. Bernal relied on his Ineos teammates to push an electric pace in the final 3km to set up his attacks, and the Colombian's acceleration shredded the GC group. Bernal was able to sweep up everyone on the road ahead accept for Tolhoek.
"I have a really good team around me and they were going really fast, so for me it was better to wait and just do one really strong attack," Bernal said. "I'm happy with this. We knew that with this big breakaway it would be really hard to win the stage, but the most important thing was to take the yellow jersey. It means a lot to me. My last race was back in March at Catalunya. To come back and race somewhere like this, a WorldTour race, is really important. It gives me a lot of confidence for the future."
That new confidence will come in handy for Bernal with four-time Tour de France champion Chris Froome set to miss the Tour de France this year after his severe crash in the Criterium du Dauphine earlier this month. Bernal's place there backing Thomas will take on greater importance, with any extended role within the team to be decided on the roads of France.
Bernal's immediate future, however, means defending his Suisse lead over the next three days. Friday's stage 7 will be another mountain test featuring category 2 and category 1 KOMs before another uphill finish to San Gattardo.
"I think we did really well, and now we need to control the race tomorrow," Bernal said. "We will play our cards."
Bernal will want to build as much time as possible over Dennis before Saturday's stage 8 time trial, a flat 19.2km test in Goms. The final day plays to Bernal's strengths with three out-of-category climbs before a descent and flat run to the finish.
"I’m really looking forward to the rest of the race," Bernal said. "Rohan Dennis, second on GC, is a really strong rider. I will lose time to him in the time trial and he is climbing really well. We will try our best."
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