Stage 19 of the Tour de France was thrown into complete chaos as rain and hail forced a closure of the course at the base of the final climb of the day to Tignes, stopping the race in Val d’Isere in the French Alps. The riders had just crested the race’s highest climb, the Col de l’Iseran, when news of the weather reached the race officials, setting off a mad scramble on the all-out descent to Val d’Isere where the Tour canceled the stage finish and raced to inform teams and riders on the road to stop racing. At the time, Colombian Egan Bernal of Ineos was alone in front, seconds ahead of Michelton’s Simon Yates and some two minutes up on overnight leader Julian Alaphilippe. At this time it appears that the decision will be to take stage times at the top of the Iseran, which would give Bernal the stage and the yellow jersey, approximately 40 seconds clear of Alaphilippe.
There was little question of continuing to Tignes. Just beyond Val d’Isere, somewhere in the vicinity of the start of the final climb, a mudslide crossed the road and created a substantial blockage. Worse, snow or hail blanketed the road in the valley between Val d’Isere and the left turn to Tignes. Highway officials attempted to clear the road, but as the riders were stopping, aerial footage showed flood waters mixing with the snow or ice on sections of the road. There was no chance of the course being fit for riding in time.
However, debate will rage over the stage’s conclusion and time recordings. Weather cancellations often nullify entire stages, not just the portion beyond where they decided to stop. Had the Tour canceled all stage times, Alaphilippe would enter the final mountain stage in yellow. Now it seems like his dreams, however tenuous they were, have evaporated. The Deceuninck-Quick Step rider was dropped decisively on the Iseran climb on an acceleration by defending winner Geraint Thomas of Ineos, and while most of the contenders stayed with Thomas apart from Alaphilippe, it was Bernal who took fullest advantage.
Once Steven Kruijswijk of Jumbo-Visma reeled in the Welshman, Bernal went to the front and got a gap, which he gradually opened to a chasm. With a group of minor or non-contenders up ahead, Bernal wove his way through the slowly-moving figures, away from his rivals, until he was at the front with only Yates for company. Bernal dispatched the Englishman, out of contention for the lead, with a last acceleration some 2km below the summit. He reached the top alone, seizing a time bonus of 8” and virtual yellow.
But Alaphilippe is a top descender, and undoubtedly hoped to reel back his maillot jaune on the downhill to Val d’Isere. The announced time gaps suggested he was not making much headway, though it’s never quite certain, and all became for naught as the decision to cancel the stage crackled over race radio. ASO cars accelerated up to the racers on the road, imploring them to slow down and take note of the decision that the race was off. It took a few attempts but before anyone approached too closely to the impaired road the peloton had gotten the message and slowed down.
Hours earlier, there was even more drama as top contender Thibaut Pinot of Groupama FDJ abandoned the Tour and his very real dreams of yellow, due to an apparent leg muscle injury sustained in a crash in recent days. Pinot quickly fell off the pace as the earliest climbing began, and was seen in tears on his bike, attempting to get medical help, before finally climbing off. French hopes of a winner took two devastating blows today.
Stage results to come.