Ineos Grenadiers dominated the climb to Chalet Reynard on Mont Ventoux at the Tour de la Provence on Saturday, delivering Ivan Sosa to the race lead and Egan Bernal to second place with a fine show of teamwork.
The first big climb of the 2021 season saw Bernal favouring the victory of his compatriot and teammate Sosa in a 1-2 that will remain in the history, but this might only be an appetizer of what is next to come at the Giro d'Italia in May.
It will be even more of a heartbreak for Gianni Savio and the staff of Androni Giocattoli-Sidermec to see their former protégés shining at the Corsa Rosa after their team has been left out of the wild cards selection process. Before being successively sold to Team Sky/Ineos, Bernal and Sosa already looked like close friends when they landed in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in February 2017, for their first race together. They eventually finished 7th and 15th of Le Tour de Langkawi in an edition won by South Africa's Ryan Gibbons that didn't have much of mountains to offer to the Colombian climbers but they built their careers together from there.
Bernal was the first of the two to react with a big smile on his face on the finishing line of Chalet Reynard. "I'm happy with today's outcome but I'm even happier that Ivan is the winner than if it was myself", said the 2019 Tour de France winner. "I'm super happy for him. I believe he's a great rider. Today's strategy was clear. We have made the race hard from quite far out and it has worked out at perfection. I'm also happy with my back today. I could feel the injury a little bit but I felt good overall. To be able to ride at such a high pace up the Mont Ventoux is an encouraging sign in my preparation for the Giro d'Italia."
Already before the start of stage 3, Bernal repeated what he said before stage 1: he'd be riding for Sosa to win the Tour de La Provence. But Bernal actually climbed to the Mont Ventoux in the position of the team's leader when Laurens de Plus and then Carlos Rodriguez did all the damage to their adversaries followed by Sosa, ready to take over. Sosa's attack with 4.8km to go was the decisive one although the diminutive Colombian climber thought he'd need more than one acceleration to make the difference for good and succeed to his compatriot Nairo Quintana as the winner at Mont Ventoux in the Tour de La Provence, and overall as well.
"I had seen that climb but I didn't know it really, I never raced here before", Sosa said. "It's a very nice and pretty hard climb, especially when we ride flat out like today. It's very good to begin the season this way. It's an excellent motivating factor for what is next to come this year. I hope to have a good season and race at the front always. I don't know exactly what my next races will be because we first have to know which races will take place really."
Asked if he'd like to come back to the Mont Ventoux for the Tour de France, Sosa replied: "For sure I'd like to." But he didn't elaborate if his wish was for the double ascent scheduled for this year's Grande Boucle. The 23-year-old also confirmed that he'll line up at the Giro d'Italia alongside Bernal with the extra motivation of tackling the race from the Piedmont region where Savio and head DS Giovanni Ellena welcomed him to make himself at home for his European adventure on their return from the 2017 Le Tour de Langkawi.
The Tour de la Provence concludes on Sunday with a less mountainous 163km stage from Avignon to Salon-de-Provence. Follow it live with Cyclingnews.
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