Egan Bernal remains firmly in Ineos Grenadiers’ Tour de France plans, despite the Colombian’s withdrawal from last week’s Volta a Catalunya and a lack of form.
The 26-year-old is continuing his recovery from a horrific crash in training last year but was forced to retire midway through stage six of the Catalan race when he fell in a crash.
He was taken to a local hospital where, according to his team, “images showed no signs of fractures.” They continued: “Further medical assessments will continue over the next few days and treatment of the abrasions he has suffered.”
It was Bernal’s first race back since he similarly withdrew from the Vuelta a San Juan in January with pain in his left knee, an injury that forced him out for three weeks.
However, despite the stop-start nature of the two-time Grand Tour winner’s season, Bernal is keen to be on the starting line of the Tour in Bilbao on July 1.
“I would like to go on tour. It’s the most important race in the world and it’s been my goal since the beginning of the year. Time will tell if I’m ready. If I’m not good, it’s better if I don’t go,” he said last week.
His team is ready to give the 2019 Tour champion every possible chance to achieve his ambitions. “Just being there at the Tour would be great to help out and see what he can do,” said the team’s DS and former rider Christian Knees cycling weekly.
“How is he developing? Will he continue to be fine? Does its development continue? I can’t say there is a specific marker. If he continues as before, if he stays healthy now, then that’s the benchmark.”
It seems very likely that Ineos’ leaders at the Tour will be Dani Martínez and Carlos Rodríguez, but having only Bernal on the team bus will be an advantage, Knees believes.
“I would say that in a form that’s better than what we’re seeing now – which is already in good form – Egan is definitely able to contribute to the team in any role,” said the German. “People will also know that he is capable. We see here [in Catalonia] he’s recovering well, he’s doing well, so I think it could be beneficial for the team and also for Egan. If you can get your feet on the ground for three weeks, that’s a big step forward.”
Before his retirement in Catalonia, Bernal – and the rest of his Ineos teammates – put in an unremarkable performance, with 32nd on stage one being his best result.
Bernal said at the start of the race that “the idea is to finish Catalunya in better shape than I started” and that “the other positive is that I don’t have any pain in my knee, which makes me happy.”
The 2019 Tour champion still lacks some of the skills he had before his crash, Knees explained, but he was “pretty confident about building up this week, resting a little bit and then going to the next race [that] he can advance further.”
He added: “It’s a bit of clout [that he lacks], a little percent on the high end, but I’m pretty confident. It’s not just his knee — it’s still progress from his massive fall. He took a step up [since his return to racing at the Tour of Denmark last August] but he’s not where he wants to be yet. He wants to be on the top end, on the sharp end, but he’s on the right track.
“He looks good, even a little better than expected, and he doesn’t just sit there and get dropped. He tries to survive and doesn’t give up right away.”
A few days before his crash in Catalonia, Bernal was also realistic in the short and medium term, pointing to other targets later in the season should he be deemed unfit for Tour selection. “The season is long and there are still many races to come. So the most important thing is to aim for the others,” he said.