Ineos Grenadiers dominated the climb to Chalet Reynard on Mont Ventoux at the Tour de la Provence on Saturday, delivering Ivan Sosa to the race lead and Egan Bernal to second place with a fine show of teamwork.
With overnight leader Davide Ballerini (Deceuninck-Quickstep) jettisoned on the lower slopes, it was everything to play for on the Giant of Provence. Ben Swift led the peloton onto the climb to reel in the last of the breakaway riders and it wasn’t long before Astana pushed the pace with Harold Tejada launching a stinging attack with 9km to climb.
New recruit Laurens De Plus tapped out a brisk tempo to bring Tejada back before handing the reins to 20-year-old Spaniard Carlos Rodriguez, who amped up the pace and whittled the leading group down to 11 riders still with 5km to go. Bernal could be seen talking into his radio and, as soon as Rodriguez ran out of team, Sosa launched his winning move.
“It was a pretty difficult stage, the strategy was for Egan or I to attack. I think between us we played it well,” Sosa said.
“The team worked hard and how it ended we can be really happy. The plan was to hit the climb at a good pace and leave it reasonably late to attack. The team feels really strong at the moment.”
In the end, it was Bernal who waited to make the move, leaping away from world champion Julian Alaphilippe to take second on the stage and, thanks to the time bonuses, moving into second overall at 19 seconds from Sosa, three seconds clear of the Frenchman.
“It’s a beautiful climb, but a hard one,” Sosa said of Mont Ventoux. “It’s really a beautiful way to start the season like this, and helps with the motivation to work hard for the rest of the year.”
The stage was a promising performance for Bernal, who dropped out of the Tour de France last year with back problems. After undergoing extensive rehab over the winter, he made a fairly anonymous debut in Etoile de Bessèges earlier in the month but showed sparks of his old form on Saturday.
The Tour de la Provence concludes on Sunday with a less mountainous 163km stage from Avignon to Salon-de-Provence. Follow it live with Cyclingnews.