Until he cracked on stage 15 of the Tour de France to Grand Colombier, Egan Bernal appeared to hide the back injury that knocked him out of the Critérium du Dauphiné. After the rest day, the young Colombian found himself in the gruppetto on a demanding stage 16 to Villard-de-Lans, losing another 10 minutes to race leader Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) and no longer able to hide the effects of his bad back.
"Today I was suffering all day, with back pain and it was increasing," Bernal said according to AS.com. "In the last climb it switched to my knee. I'm screwed up on all sides. If I continue like this, it will be difficult to fight for the stage in the Col de la Loze, which is a very hard climb, with a lot of steep gradients."
Bernal gave up any hopes of defending his title in the Tour de France after losing contact with the maillot jaune group on the Grand Colombier on stage 15, after holding Roglič to gain only time bonuses in the first half of the race. He lost 7:20 in a few kilometres but admitted he'd been suffering on the Col de le Biche which proceeded the final climb.
There had been speculation that Bernal would give up a lot of time in order to gain more freedom to escape for the team's first stage victory of this Tour de France. The Ineos Grenadiers had a good chance to claim the win on stage 16, but 2019 Giro d'Italia winner Richard Carapaz lost contact with eventual stage winner Lennard Kämna (Bora-Hansgrohe).
"The goal was to win the stage with an Ineos rider. The team is fine and was focused on helping me, but now they have freedom," Bernal said.
Carapaz managed to give Ineos its first podium appearance of the race, having been awarded the most combative rider prize.
It has been a remarkably bad year for Ineos, who have dominated the Tour de France since 2012, and the dire circumstances have forced principal Dave Brailsford to look down the road to the 2021 Tour de France and try to salvage what he can from this year's event.
"It's a bit of a test of pride, passion and character now, to come back from this for the rest of the week. But as far as we are concerned, this is the first day of trying to win the Tour de France next year," Brailsford said.
Deceuninck-QuickStep manager Patrick Lefevere compared Bernal's form with other riders like Julian Alaphilippe, who were forced to remain indoors for weeks because of local COVID-19 control measures.
"Everyone is talking about those long training rides of Bernal, but before that he also spent two months indoors. The riders who had to stay indoors are not in the basic condition as in other years," he said to Sporza.
"It is too simplistic to say that Bernal is over-trained. Rather, it is a lack of foundation. When you build a house, you have to put it on a good foundation. Those men actually built up their fitness on sand, because they have been unable to do anything for two months."