He was motivated by them during his most troubled times. And now he’s on a level with them.
Bernal’s pink jersey not only sees him level up with 2020 Tour de France winner Pogačar and Vuelta a España champ Roglič as the latest to win over three weeks, but also confirms him as one of the three galacticos of cycling right now.
💗 El día en que @Eganbernal vinculó su nombre para siempre al Giro d'Italia y a Italia.
— Giro d'Italia (@giroditalia) May 30, 2021
Despite an at-times shakey final week, Bernal emerged as the rightful winner of the Giro’s Trofeo Senza Fine on Sunday, with his 1:29 CG victory over second-place Damiano Caruso perhaps not doing justice to his dominance. Scoring two stage wins among some searing rides in the mountains, Bernal only once looked truly in peril during his 13 days in the pink jersey.
It was a stage-racing stranglehold that a certain two Slovenians would be proud of.
After months of uncertainty due to the back injury that torpedoed his Tour de France defense in 2020, Bernal is back to his best.
The next step is for him to prove it against the two men that kept him grinding through a long recovery period.
“Winning this Giro is a marvelous thing, an explosion of so many emotions,” Bernal said Sunday. “But I’m keeping my feet on the ground. I see many strong riders – Roglič and Pogačar – around me. Knowing what they’ve done gives me motivation.”
“I’ve won a great race here – I’m back in the game.”
At this moment, the pink, yellow and red jerseys seem to sit with the three most scintillating grand tour racers in the peloton. But tantalizingly, we may not see them face-off for some time yet. While Roglič and Pogačar are tweaking out their Tour de France form at various altitude camps this month, Bernal will cool his jets before rebuilding for a tilt at the Vuelta.
With Bernal so brilliant in the past three weeks, could he get a call to ride in France?
He suggested it would be unlikely during a mid-Giro press conference, and he again batted away the suggestion that he would race the Tour just four weeks from now when speaking in Milano.
“I won a Tour and a Giro so now I want to win the Vuelta,” Bernal said Sunday.
Intriguingly, team boss Dave Brailsford hasn’t totally ruled out the prospect of his Colombian star being slotted into the roster for the Tour.
Geraint Thomas, Tao Geoghegan Hart and Richard Carapaz are set to lead the line in France. Thomas and Geoghegan Hart are currently tuning their engines at this week’s Critérium du Dauphiné, and Carapaz will race at the Tour de Suisse in a week’s time.
“I doubt it,” Brailsford said when asked if Bernal would go to France. “We’ve got our Tour team. Brailsford said soon after seeing Bernal cross the line after his final TT. “We’ll sit down and look at the situation after the Dauphine and Suisse.”
As mouth-watering a prospect as Bernal lining up at the Grand Départ at the end of this month may be, it’s unlikely to happen unless one of Ineos’ pre-selected captains hits a disaster divot in the next weeks. And even if Bernal does punch his ticket to return to the Tour this year, his chance of being in yellow jersey contention so soon after emptying the tanks in Italy are slim.
A Bernal vs Pogačar vs Roglič face-off may be some time away – but will be worth the wait
It seems that we won’t see a three-way showdown between the three galacticos of grand tour racing for a while yet – most likely sometime in 2022.
Sure, that’s 12 months away, but maybe that’s a good thing.
Bernal suggested through the Giro that he was still seeing therapists to control his long-lingering back problems, an issue that many pointed to as a possible cause of his wobble when pressured by Simon Yates on the Sega di Ala last week. In one year’s time, Bernal should be more-than recovered.
No bad back means more of the blazing attacks that founded his Giro title – and that’s a good thing for us on the sofa.
And keeping Bernal out of the Tour will allow the matchup between the two Slovenian foes Roglič and Pogačar to take center stage. Although Ineos Grenadiers could well steal the show at this year’s Tour, seeing Roglič and Pogačar on each other’s elbows again after the scintillating three weeks of last summer is a spectacle that almost deserves to be left uncomplicated.
And during that time, both Pogačar and Bernal will have the time to bed-in their still blossoming skillset over three weeks. It’s all-too-easy to forget that they’re just 22 and 24 respectively and still have room to grow.
G I R O pic.twitter.com/ibdK6rHVDF
— Egan Arley Bernal (@Eganbernal) May 30, 2021
How would the threesome fare against one another? Who knows, and for now, who cares.
The most important takeaway from Bernal’s ride to his second grand tour title is that Bernal is back. And with that, the cycling world has another huge talent with a lot of road ahead of him. After months of doubt and struggle as he managed his niggling injuries from last summer, Bernal is back on the grand tour map.
“With this Giro, I’ve found something that I’ve lost again,” he said.
Bernal has found his mojo again. Roglič and Pogačar have found a new wheel to worry about. And everyone else has rediscovered another reason to be stoked for cycling.