Bernal had to abandon the Critérium du Dauphiné last month due to a back problem. It was still bothering him when he arrived in Nice for the start of the race but he was optimistic it would improve as the race went on.
Bernal finished with the 16-strong group of favourites on the first summit finish of the race on stage 4, but was unable to match Primoz Roglic's winning acceleration and slid to 7th place on the stage.
On Thursday, it was a quiet stage until Julian Alaphilippe sprinted for the line on Mont Aigoual, whereupon Kwiatkowski opened up in pursuit, before looking over his shoulder at Bernal in his wheel. Mollema, who rode past them to close the gap to Alaphilippe, claimed Bernal was ordering the pace to be lowered.
"I was a bit surprised that Bernal had to leave a gap," Mollema told Dutch TV station NOS. “He said 'easy easy' to Kwiatkowski in the last 200 meters. Maybe he didn't want to go any faster or he didn't feel well."
Bernal, however, downplayed any notion that he was suffering, after placing 8th on the stage.
"I'm feeling a bit better every day and today I felt much better. We have to remain patient and recover as well as possible," he said, according to El Tiempo.
"It was a pretty hard day, and we're going to feel it in the legs. The final climb was hard, so there were no attacks. It's one of those days that will be felt in the legs the following day and adds to the accumulated fatigue in the final week."
Kwiatkowski played a leading role as Team Ineos took control of the peloton on the second mountain stage of the race. They rode the whole of the category-1 Col de la Lusette and the subsequent drag to the line on Mont Aigoual at the head of the peloton.
However, it wasn't a tempo designed to hurt their opposition, and the gap to the breakaway stage winner Alexey Lutsenko barely diminished, leaving the overall contenders with a largely quiet day ahead of the Pyrenean weekender.
"We knew the climb was pretty tricky, with a bad surface, so that was basically getting out of trouble. Being in the wheels on the climb, we would suffer more, so we just rode on the front with our own speed, saving energy and keeping safe. Mission complete," Kwiatkowski told ITV.
"We were not afraid to take it on and try for the stage win but that was a pretty strong breakaway. If you know the names out there, we knew it would not be an easy task for Mitchelton-Scott, so my money was on the breakaway today."
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