Outnumbered two to one and exhausted, Julien had limited options in the run-in to Stage 5 in the Basque Country's penultimate day
Trek-Segafredo breakaway specialist Julien Bernard was motivated for Stage five at Itzulia Basque Country. After spending a lot of energy to find the right breakaway in Stage four, he knew Friday’s penultimate stage was more than likely his last opportunity.
“I was really motivated again today to go in the break because yesterday I missed it,” said Bernard. “Yesterday there was really a lot of attacks and it went on the climb, and today there was less teams thinking about the chance of the break. But still, the peloton was really motivated to catch us, and it was nice to see the breakaway beat the peloton. It does not happen so often, so that was quite nice.
“It’s a hard race for me, and I need to take a decision which day is good for me. I don’t ride for the GC so I can keep more energy in other days to focus for one stage. Today and yesterday, I think were good stages for me, and tomorrow will be much harder. Today was my last chance. Also, normally each stage race I reach at least one breakaway, and yesterday I was a bit disappointed to not make one yet, so today I was really, really motivated and I put all-in.”
When a six-man group formed, and the bunch content with the assortment, Julien could finally breathe a sigh of relief. He had made it. And when, on the final categorized climb with 30 kilometers to go, the Deceuninck-QuickStep duo of Mikkel Honoré won and Josef Cerny attacked and only Bernard was able to hang on, he knew he had a chance, finally, of going for a stage win.
However, the bunch never relinquished its pursuit. It was the only stage possible to end in a sprint, and teams were motivated. The trio up front traded pulls and were able to keep the peloton at bay. In favor of the bunch before the last categorized climb, the advantage now tilted back to the breakaway.
Now came the hard part: How to beat two teammates who clearly showed they are stronger?
With 10 kilometers remaining, the three leaders had 90 seconds, enough if they did not ease up. Bernard started sitting out turns. Then finally took a backseat and let the two Quick-Step teammates do the work.
The knockout punches were delivered in succession: On a short rise inside the final five kilometers, Honoré attacked. When Bernard did not react, Cerny countered.
Julien explained: “I was just empty at the end. I needed to make a decision at 5kms to go: to follow Honoré and for sure Cerny will attack after, or I start my time trial to keep the 3rd place. After the [last] climb I saw straightaway they were stronger than me, so I needed to decide what is the best for me, and I think the best was the 3rd place.”
The two teammates went on to finish 1-2 while Bernard gritted his teeth to hold off the fast-approaching bunch by 11 seconds.
“It’s not a victory for sure but I think it was the best result I could have today. I would have been really disappointed if the bunch caught me in the last 500 meters. At the end, I took a decision, and I think it was a good one,” added Bernard. “I think it was a good result – it is a hard race, a hard level, and I think I can be proud of this.”