What's the opposite of a firework?: 2020 Tour de France, stage 15

No winding down before the rest day as Team Ineos are dealt a fatal blow at the close of the second week. If you think that means the general classification war is won, you might want to think again

As riders crossed the line in dribs and drabs, Eurosport’s Jonathan Harris-Bass was unequivocally damning with his verdict:

“There is no way back from that,” he said. “Absolutely none.”

Because the story of the stage was not another Slovenian one-two - so common now as to be entirely unremarkable - but the complete collapse of the reigning champion, Egan Bernal, on the lower slopes of the final climb.

Ineos Grenadiers’ leader eventually finished in 25th place, some 7 minutes, 20 seconds after Pog and Rog.

When he did eventually reach the top of the Grand Colombier, as well as the ever dependable Michal Kwiatkowski, it was in the company of a certain Wout van Aert. The former (and sometime) cyclocross rider was the one setting the pace on the front of the yellow jersey group when the Colombian dropped off the back of it. A devastating 13 kilometres from the summit.

The sight of one of their leaders in actual trouble at the Tour de France is not something we’ve witnessed since the team’s earliest assault on the race, more than a decade ago. Back then the consensus was that you don’t win the Tour on your first try. Yesterday the conclusion we came to was rather different.

If you didn’t believe the Ineos/Sky era was over before, that moment must surely have clinched it for you.

Dave Brailsford's bunch have now gone 108 Grand Tour stages without a win. Geraint Thomas on Alpe d'Huez in 2018 was their last one. In that time Jumbo Visma have racked up 11 of them.

Which is not to suggest that they won’t win the Tour again, let alone become an also-running NTT or CCC - Ineos is still the best-funded team in the WorldTour, and while money alone may not be able to buy a path to the top, it can certainly stop you from sinking to the bottom - merely that the all-too familiar feeling of inevitability that one of their riders will has burnt out.

Fortunately, despite the amount of TV time they have earned this year riding on the front, it has not yet been replaced by the sense that Jumbo Visma will be the ones vanquishing all-comers in their stead. Not yet, at least.

It could, of course. The way the riders in yellow kept control yesterday, the hardest stage of the race so far, was perhaps their most masterful display to date.

At 12km to the top David Millar noted admiringly the steady application of force: “Look at that group just whittling down,” he observed. “There’s almost as many Jumbo Visma riders in there as others.”

It was true, the Dutch did seem to be cruising, but it’s also a fact that the Grande Boucle is closer at this point in proceedings than in all but two editions since Sky started winning. Tadej Pogacar has taken 41 seconds out of his compatriot Roglic since September 4th and is now just 40 behind.

Egan Bernal and Ineos might well have seen their chances in this race go up in smoke yesterday, but there’s still plenty of fire to come from the 2020 Tour de France.




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