“My teammates did an exceptional job, it’s fantastic,” said Egan Bernal. Photo: Urs Flueeler/Keystone via AP

PARIS – Egan Bernal consolidated his grip on the yellow jersey at the Tour de Suisse, and showed he is a contender for the Tour de France by climbing to victory in the seventh stage on Friday.

The Colombian, who rides for Ineos, finished 23 seconds clear at the end of the longest stage of the Swiss race, a 216.6km ride from Unterterzen to San Gottardo.

“My teammates did an exceptional job, it’s fantastic,” said Bernal.

Bernal was followed home by two Bahrain-Merida riders, the Italian Domenico Pozzovivo and the Australian Rohan Dennis, who is second in the overall classification.

With just over two weeks to go before the start of the Tour de France, Bernal is positioning himself as one of the favourites for the race which recently lost two of its headliners: Britain’s Chris Froome, who is also with Ineos, and Dutchman Tom Dumoulin of Sunweb.

The group of leaders caught the last of Friday’s breakaways a little over five kilometres from the finish at the top of the Gotthard Pass.

Less than 3km from the line on the beyond category climb, Bernal accelerated clear and headed for victory alone.

With two stages left, Bernal is 41 seconds clear of Dennis in the overall standings. Austrian Patrick Konrad (Bora), who was fourth on Friday, is third and the 1min 13sec behind. 

The penultimate stage on Saturday is a 19.2 km time trial around Goms, before the race ends with a short (101.5 km) but rough final stage, with three beyond category climbs.

“Tomorrow, I will certainly lose time on the clock, but there will be a mountain stage on Sunday. We will control that as much as we can. We’ll give it our best,” said Bernal.

AFP