Tour de France 2019: Egan Bernal leads after hailstorm stops stage 19

A snowplough at the Tour de France
Snowploughs were unable to clear the road in time for the race to pass through

Egan Bernal has moved into the overall Tour de France lead after a hailstorm around 20km from the finish of stage 19 in the Alps left the road impassable.

A localised storm in Val d'Isere forced race organisers to halt the stage and a statement said times would be "frozen" at the top of the day's previous climb.

Bernal, who started the day 90 seconds behind Julian Alaphilippe, led the Frenchman by two minutes at that point.

Ineos team-mate and defending champion Geraint Thomas remains third overall.

The result leaves 22-year-old Bernal in a strong position to win his first Grand Tour race with one more day in the mountains before Sunday's finale with tradition dictating that the leader of the race after Saturday's penultimate stage is not challenged in Paris.

"It's incredible," he said. "When I had the yellow jersey I wanted to cry."

Thomas to ride for Bernal

Thomas and Bernal went into the race as joint team leaders for Ineos but with the Colombian leading, Thomas said he would "fully support" him on stage 20.

"Egan's in yellow so the main thing is he finishes the job," Thomas added.

"It was a funny one because you think if we'd known that [the race would be stopped early] it would have been more of a race on the last climb.

"It's one of those things, it's out of everyone's control. It's all ifs and buts but the main thing is we've got the jersey in the team now. We're in a great position. We've just got to go and finish the job off."

Initial indications were that Bernal would be awarded the stage win, but a later statement said there would be no stage winner with times taken on the top of what proved to be the day's final climb, the Col de l'Iseran.

The unofficial timings have Bernal 50 seconds ahead of Thomas and fellow rivals for the overall win Steven Kruijswijk and Emanuel Buchmann at that stage. Alaphilippe was two minutes, seven seconds back.

Bernal, who picked up an eight-second time bonus for being first up the Col de l'Iseran, will officially take a 48 second lead over the Frenchman into Saturday's penultimate stage, with Thomas a further 28 seconds back.

Tour de France race director Christian Prudhomme chatting to Geraint Thomas
Race director of the Tour de France Christian Prudhomme explained to Geraint Thomas why the race was being curtailed

Welshman Thomas, who had attacked 6km from the summit of the Col de l'Iseran, reached the top more than one minute clear of Alaphilippe. He had started the stage 95 seconds adrift.

Bernal, who followed Thomas' initial attack before racing clear himself, was first to reach the 2,770m summit - the highest point in this year's race - along with Britain's Simon Yates.

However, as the riders raced down the mountain to Val d'Isere in preparation for what should have been the final climb of the day to Tignes, television pictures showed snowploughs trying to clear the road and race officials made the decision to halt the stage.

Video posted on social media also showed a landslide blocking the road from Val d'Isere to Tignes.

Team Ineos boss Dave Brailsford said: "First and foremost there has been a considerable landslide and you have to make sure everyone is alright. There is bike racing and then the health and safety of everyone.

"Fortune favours the brave. We said we'd take it on. We thought we could make the difference on the Col de l'Iseran and I thought the guys rode really well.

"Wout [Poels] really pushed the tempo, we had a plan, G [Geraint Thomas] went first and Egan [Bernal] went and really pushed it out over the top of the climb.

"There was a downhill and another climb to come, We don't control the weather. I'm happy in one way but concerned in another, I hope everyone is OK."

Disastrous day for the French

Julian Alaphilippe
Alaphilippe climbed into his team car after learning the stage had been cancelled

For Alaphilippe, those times could be a blessing. Although he was making up a few seconds on the descent of the Col de l'Iseran, he would likely have lost more time on what would have been a final 7.4km ascent to Tignes.

However, given the way Alaphilippe was left behind on the Col de l'Iseran, it is hard to see him coming back on Saturday's final day in the Alps which features three more climbs, with the finale being a 33.5km ascent to Val Thorens.

"I don't think it is possible," said Alaphilippe when asked if he could regain the yellow jersey that he has worn for 14 days in this year's race. "I have been beaten by something that is stronger than me, that's how it is.

"I have no regrets. It was a dream to wear it, I carried this dream longer than I had hoped and I beat myself up every day to keep a hold of it. From the moment I took hold of the yellow jersey I dreamed but I never thought I could win the Tour."

And hopes of a first home victory since Bernard Hinault won the last of his joint-record five titles in 1985 were earlier dented when Thibaut Pinot was forced to abandon the race.

Pinot started the day one minute, 50 seconds behind Alaphilippe but quit in tears, with his Groupama FDJ team confirming it was because of a thigh injury picked up on stage 17.

In his stage-by-stage guide for the BBC Sport website, Mitchelton-Scott rider Adam Yates has picked himself as one to watch in Saturday's final day in the Alps.

Overall standings after stage 19:

1. Egan Bernal (Col/Ineos) 78hrs 00mins 42secs

2. Julian Alaphilippe (Fra/ Deceuninck-Quick Step) +48secs

3. Geraint Thomas (GB/Ineos) +1min 16secs

4. Steven Kruijswijk (Ned/Jumbo-Visma) +1min 28secs

5. Emanuel Buchmann (Ger/Bora-Hansgrohe) +1min 55secs

6. Mikel Landa (Spa/Movistar) +4mins 35secs

7. Rigoberto Uran (Col/EF Education First) +5mins 14secs

8. Nairo Quintana (Col/Movistar) +5mins 17secs

9. Alejandro Valverde (Spa/Movistar) +6mins 25secs

10. Richie Porte (Aus/Trek-Segafredo) +6mins 28secs

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