The Ineos leadership dilemma has been simmering gently since the start of the Tour de France in Brussels three weeks ago, but now, according to Geraint Thomas, it's clear. Egan Bernal is the leader, and he and the rest of the team will rally behind the new maillot jaune as he looks to finish the job at Val Thorens on Saturday.
The balance of power between the 2018 champion and the 22-year-old prodigy had swung steadily in Bernal's direction on the two stages in the Pyrenees last weekend and again on the first outing in the Alps on Thursday.
On stage 19, it was set in stone, and in extraordinary circumstances. Bernal had attacked 5km from the top of the Col de l'Iseran and was heading solo down the descent towards the final climb to Tignes when the race was suddenly aborted due to a storm which had left ice and landslides on the road.
Times were taken from the top of the Iseran, meaning Bernal took the yellow jersey from Julian Alaphilippe, whom he now leads by 48 seconds. Thomas, meanwhile, who had attacked before Bernal went and slotted into a chase group with Steven Kruiswijk, is now third at 1:16. One stage remains, finishing at Val Thorens after a 33km climb, and Bernal is on the verge of winning his first Tour.
Thomas was driven to the finish in Tignes to undergo a doping control while Bernal pulled on the maillot jaune, and spoke to reporters to explain that he was now in a support role.
"Most definitely. Going into the last stage, with Egan in yellow, the main thing is that he finishes the job now. For sure, he has decent advantage over everyone else. So yeah, fully support him now," Thomas said.
"He's been incredible from the start. He's a phenomenal talent and we all said last year that he'd win the Tour one day, even if we maybe didn't expect it to be this year. He's been super strong, he's shown he's been climbing one of the best here. We just need to finish this job now."
While the yellow jersey is within the team, and victory in sight, there is bound to have been a hint of disappointment for Thomas from a personal perspective. When Bernal went up the road on Prat d'Albis last Sunday and again on the Col du Galibier on Thursday, Thomas set off in counter-attack, raising questions over team tactics.
Having been overtaken by Bernal on Thursday, Thomas went on the attack again on the Iseran, moments before Bernal launched his own offensive once it had come to nothing.
Asked about the decision to abort the stage on the descent and cut the final climb, there was a hint of regret for Thomas, despite the strong position Ineos find themselves in as a team.
"It was a funny one, because you kind of think, if we'd known that before, there'd have been more of a race to the top of the last climb, but it's one of those things – it's out of everyone's control.
"Obviously everyone was a bit disappointed. Nobody knew. If we'd known, we could have raced to top of that final climb, and it would have been different with Alaphilippe and everything.
"It's all ifs and buts but the main thing is we've got the jersey in the team now and we're in a great position, so we just need to go and finish the job off tomorrow."
As for whether the organisers made the right decision, he said: "When you see pictures, then it was right call, I guess.
"I saw some of the pictures with the hail, and the road was completely covered, and for sure it was dangerous to race like that. [Race director, Christian] Prudhomme showed me some pictures of the road, and it was unable to pass. It's just a freak day, really. But the organisers, they didn't plan that, that's what it is, you just have to accept that."
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