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Bernal leads as Mother Nature stages intervention

Reuters

Egan Bernal, right, rides during the 126.5-kilometer 19th stage of the Tour de France on Friday.

The Associated PressTIGNES, France (AP) — In an instant, and just as it was becoming even more thrilling, the most exciting Tour de France in decades became truly bizarre, and got a new leader — Egan Bernal of Colombia — who looks all but certain to hold the yellow jersey to Paris on Sunday.

A violent hailstorm threw cycling’s greatest race into chaos on Friday, forcing organizers to cut short a nail-biting stage in the high Alps because riders were speeding, unbeknownst to them, headlong toward a road that had suddenly become covered with ice and giant puddles and cut in half by a rockslide.

Concerned for riders’ safety on mountain roads that can be dangerous at the best of times, race organizers made an on-the-spot, and extremely rare, decision that the stage couldn’t continue.

The shockwave was immediate and heavy in repercussions. Unable to reach the planned finish at the ski station of Tignes, organizers decided that riders’ placings would instead be based on their time at the top of the highest mountain pass of this Tour — the Iseran, at 2,770 meters above sea level — which leading riders, but not all, had just scaled when the race was stopped.

And just like that, Bernal found himself in the yellow jersey.

He flew away from Julian Alaphilippe on the climb and reached the top 2 minutes 10 seconds ahead of the Frenchman, who had held the race lead for a total of 14 days.

Not only is Bernal the new leader, but he also now looks almost certain to stay in yellow all the way to Paris, because Stage 20 on Saturday will also be shortened, again because of expected storms and landslides. The now truncated route of just 59 kilometers, shorn of two of its three planned climbs, is no longer likely to be hard enough for Bernal’s rivals to make him crack.

Still, from the way he stormed up the Iseran, few could argue that Bernal would be an undeserving winner. Having powered up the climb, Bernal was speeding down hairpins on the other side, with Alaphilippe hot on his trail, hoping to save his race lead, when they received the order to stop racing.

“I don’t really know what happened. I was speeding, attacking, and everything was going well and then they told me to stop. I didn’t want to stop,” Bernal said through a interpreter on French television. “When they told me that I was the race leader and I had the yellow jersey, I couldn’t believe it and I still can’t believe it.”

Organizers scrambled to deal with the disarray and riders clambered off their bikes, not immediately sure what was going on. Exceptionally, there was no winner of Stage 19, because no one had reached the finish.

Pinot drops out of race

TIGNES, France (AP) — Thibaut Pinot’s remarkable Tour de France ended in pain and tears within touching distance of Paris as the Frenchman was forced to abandon the race with a left leg injury on Friday.

Pinot, who brought excitement to the race in the Pyrenees last week with strong attacks and posted a prestigious stage win at the top of the Tourmalet, had hoped to make the most of the last two Alpine stages to close the gap on race leader Julian Alaphilippe.

A muscular injury sustained when he swerved to avoid a crash earlier in the final week proved too painful when Stage 19 started at a brisk pace, said Philippe Mauduit, a sports director on Pinot’s Groupama-FDJ team.

Mauduit said the discomfort was bearable on the flat but not when the road started to veer sharply uphill in the Alps.

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