Bernal happy to just survive first Tour de France mountain test

LOUDENVIELLE, France (Reuters) - Egan Bernal struggled to keep pace with Primoz Roglic in the punishing ascent to the Col de Peyresourde on Saturday, but a decent job at pacing himself left him where he wants to be - still in the Tour de France favourite’s slipstream.

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The defending champion, who is biding his time until the race hits the longer climbs of the Alps in the third week, trails Slovenian Roglic by 10 seconds after the eighth stage.

“In the last two climbs the pace was really fast,” said Bernal. “It was not easy to stay with Roglic but I’m happy I stayed with the first group.”

Bernal was briefly dropped several times when Roglic upped the pace in the final climb, a 9.7 km effort at an average gradient of 7.8%, to control fellow Slovenian Tadej Pogacar.

But every time he fought his way back, also with the help of Ineos Grenadiers team mate and Giro d’Italia champion Richard Carapaz, while Roglic had no support.

Jumbo Visma’s Tom Dumoulin, the team’s “plan B”, rode a hard pace to test the favourites, but the move backfired as he imploded and the Dutchman lost all hope of winning the race, leaving Roglic alone in the main contenders’ group.

“When Dumoulin set the hard pace in the last climb I had the feeling I could not sustain it until the finale,” said Bernal.

“I looked at the (power) numbers and I could not do this until the finale so I tried to manage myself. I tried to do what was best for me and I think I did a good job.”

Bernal, who was suffering from back pains before the Tour, is expected to fare better in the Alps, where the longer climbs suit his abilities better.

The last Alpine stage also finished at 2,300 metres in Meribel, an altitude that could favour the Colombian.

Did Roglic miss a chance to put the hammer down?

“It was a hard tempo but like I said it’s the first mountain stage and there is still a lot to come,” said Roglic.

Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by David Holmes