FLORENCE, Italy (VN) — Defending Giro d’Italia champion Team Ineos is searching for a rider to lead its Giro team with less than a week to go before the race.

The race begins on Saturday, May 11, in Bologna.

The team’s attempt to defend its Giro victory was thrown into peril this weekend when Colombian phenom Egan Bernal crashed and broke his collarbone during a training ride in Andorra. The team then revealed that Italian rider Gianni Moscon lacks the fitness to compete for the win at the three-week race.

Defending champion Chris Froome said that he cannot return to defend his title with his eyes on a fifth Tour de France title in July. He just finished the Tour of Yorkshire, where the rumor is that Ineos already selected a Bernal replacement.

Geraint Thomas, who just placed third overall in the Tour de Romandie, also wants to build steadily towards the Tour. Earlier this year Thomas said that he would not race the 2019 Giro d’Italia.

Sports director Xabier Zandio said, “He’s moving in a good direction as we look towards the Tour de France.”

Bernal reportedly crashed on a slippery roundabout during a training ride on Saturday. He had just returned from Colombia and was out for one of his last pre-Giro training rides near his European base.

“I’m very sad, I really had my eyes on this Giro d’Italia and I was training well. I had a lot of hope,” Bernal told La Gazzetta dello Sport.

“And you know, I lived a few years in Italy, there are mountain stages in Piemonte that I know well.”

Bernal was considered one of a handful of potential winners, alongside Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma), Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb) and Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott). Bernal rode his first grand tour in the 2018 Tour de France, helping Froome to third overall and Thomas to the top step of the podium.

The ride followed his win in the Colombian tour and the Tour of California. This year, having already received the green light to lead the mighty Team Sky – now Team Ineos – he won Paris-Nice and placed third in the Volta a Catalunya.

Bernal’s agent said that had the crash occurred 15 days ago, Bernal could have recovered enough to race the Giro. He pointed out that in 2018 Bernal broke his collarbone and shoulder in the Volta a Catalunya and returned just a month later in the Tour de Romandie, where he won the time trial stage, his first WorldTour victory.

Moscon is sidelined due to a lack of form. This winter, he was to be one of the two Giro leaders with Bernal. As winter turned to spring, race results clearly indicated that Bernal would be the leader. And with one week before the race begins, form and results see Ineos is overlooking the 25-year-old Italian.

“I trained well after Paris-Roubaix, I felt good,” Moscon told La Gazzetta dello Sport on Saturday. “If I’m not racing, no drama, I’ll race other events.”

On Sunday, the Italian sports daily said that Ineos would not field Moscon in its eight-man roster. The full roster will be announced in the coming day, but some names are already known.

Ineos will continue to back a young roster. Without Bernal, 21-year-old Russian Pavel Sivakov and 24-year-old Londoner Tao Geoghegan Hart will have a chance. Sivakov just won the Tour of the Alps earlier this May and Geoghegan Hart helped him, winning two stags and placing second overall.

Both made their grand tour debut in the Vuelta a España last year. Sivakov never rode the Giro, but won the amateur version in 2017.

New signings Colombian Ivan Sosa, 21, and Ecuadorian Jhonatan Narvaez, 22, complete the roster, alongside helpers Italian Salvatore Puccio and German Christian Knees.