The debates and controversy over the decision to nullify the finale of stage 19 at the Tour de France will run long after this year's race finishes on Sunday, with the entire race turned on its head after ASO took the correct but significant decision to end the stage atop the Col de l'Iseran.
The call was made only after Egan Bernal (Team Ineos) crested the top of the climb and began his lengthy descent towards the last climb of the day. Despite a chase from his main rivals and a desperate Julian Alaphilippe hoping to regain a footing on the descent, the finish times were taken from the from top of Col de l'Iseran after organisers were forced to stop the race because of landslides on the road ahead.
Although no stage winner was declared, the gaps were enough to move Bernal into the lead and see Alaphilippe drop to second overall. For Jumbo-Visma's Steven Kruijswijk, the decision to call an end to the stage so long before the last climb was a tough one to take. He was putting time into Alaphilippe and although Bernal was well ahead, the Dutchman was set to go head-to-head with Thomas at least. A podium spot at the end of the day looked likely but with the times taken on the Col de l'Iseran, Kruijswijk sits in fourth overall and still behind Alaphilippe and Thomas.
"It's out of my control. I'm here to race and take every opportunity I can. It's a bit shit that today had to be cancelled halfway. It's a good decision when you see it, of course, but it wasn't in my favour," he said as he cooled down on the rollers outside the Jumbo-Visma hotel.
"It was a bit unreal. It's hectic in the race and then you hear your sports director telling you that the race will be stopped and that the times will be taken on the Iseran. You can't believe and then when you think about it it's quite shit because I didn't start to push until the summit of the Col de l'Iseran. I took an extra bottle and then when you think that every second counts... When you look at it that what it's just a shit scenario."
Kruijswijk matched an earlier move from Thomas and countered it with an acceleration but he was powerless when Bernal jumped clear and cut through the day's early break. The Jumbo-Visma leader worked with the chase group and picked up teammate Laurens de Plus before the summit. They rode at a steady tempo on the climb with the plan of saving their legs for the descent and the final climb to the finish.
"I knew what was coming and I still wanted to have Laurens with me in the downhill. I knew that if Bernal had to do this part of the race on his own then he would use a lot of energy. That's one of the main reasons why we rode with control to the top. I didn't get the result I wanted. That's for sure," he said.
The final Alpine stage is no pushover with another summit finish before Sunday's procession into Paris. Bernal leads the race and given his performance on the truncated stage 19 looks set to become the first Colombian winner of the race. Kruijswijk admitted that Bernal had been the strongest rider in the race but was adamant that he would rally and try to reignite his podium hopes.
"I hope that I can go again tomorrow. Today was a good chance for me to get on the podium but I can't change things now. Hopefully, today's decision won't affect that. The race will decide and tomorrow is a hard stage. If I knew that the finish was on the Iseran I would have gone full gas but that's the same for everyone on GC. I'm confident that I can do something again. I don't have the power to influence the weather or decisions. Bernal was clearly the strongest but it is what it is. I can't change it."
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Daniel Benson was the Editor in Chief at Cyclingnews.com between 2008 and 2022. Based in the UK, he joined the Cyclingnews team in 2008 as the site's first UK-based Managing Editor. In that time, he reported on over a dozen editions of the Tour de France, several World Championships, the Tour Down Under, Spring Classics, and the London 2012 Olympic Games. With the help of the excellent editorial team, he ran the coverage on Cyclingnews and has interviewed leading figures in the sport including UCI Presidents and Tour de France winners.