Second overall and 21 seconds down on race leader Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma), Bernal came through Thursday’s longest stage of the Tour without any major incidents, but he still said there had been “a lot of hard racing.”
Bernal is expecting to be in the thick of the action on stage 13, when the peloton will tackle a viciously difficult second category climb, the Col de Neronne, immediately before the final ascent to the Puy Mary.
“It’s not just the climbing, the distance is important, too,” Bernal said after stage 12, where he finished safely in the main pack of favourites in 25th spot. “I’m expecting some big differences.”
Unlike the maillot jaune, Roglič, who will be going into Friday’s stage with no first-hand knowledge of the climbs, Bernal said that he and his teammates came to check them out earlier in the year.
“We did that recon and neither of them are very long, but they are really hard climbs,” Bernal said. “We’ll have to fight hard. It’s difficult to predict what kind of differences, but we have to be ready.”
Bernal confirmed that although the hilly stage 13 had been tough itself on the legs – “Bora-Hansgrohe were pulling a lot for [green jersey contender, Peter] Sagan” he pointed out – any kind of battle between the GC favourites had failed to materialise, despite the time bonuses on offer atop the final climb of the Suc au May.
“Those bonus seconds on the stage could have been part of the game, and we didn’t know if there would be a fight for them or what would happen. Finally the break took all the bonuses, but there was a lot of hard racing behind as well,” Bernal said.
Bernal was pleased, in any case, that Marc Hirschi (Team Sunweb), a rider he knows from the Tour de L’Avenir, could take the stage victory.
“I think he was in a team with [Ineos-Grenadiers racer] Pavel [Sivakov] a few years ago, I’m very happy for him, he did a great race,” said Bernal. But when asked if Hirschi could be a future fighter for the Tour de France overall classification, he was more circumspect.
“There is a new generation for sure, with [Tadej] Pogačar, Remco [Evenepoel], Pavel and me. But other riders who have more experience are in the battle too,” he warned.
Bernal did not need to have to mention any names, but a certain Slovenian who is currently in yellow is surely among that latter group of racers. And if there was something of a truce between the two on Thursday, on Friday it will be a different story.
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