Bernal burst into the limelight with a historic win at the 2019 Tour de France, but the Ineos Grenadiers rider is a shadow of his former self for the past 12 months.
Plagued by back problems, which ultimately forced him out of last year’s Tour, Bernal’s confidence is at a low ebb. The Giro d’Italia gives him an opportunity to harken back to happier times, but he admits he doesn’t know if he has the winning legs.
“I don’t think I have the best condition that I won the Tour with yet, but I want to find it again, and I also want to find again the confidence that I had,” Bernal said Thursday.
“Last year was not a very easy one for me and I want to find the confidence again at the Giro. I’m really motivated, and I really hope I will be able to do well.”
The Bernal of old appeared to be lurking in the shadows during the early part of the season after podium places in March at the Trofeo Laigueglia and Strade Bianche, which could stand him in good stead when the Giro hits the strade bianche in the second week. He confirmed it with fourth overall at Tirreno-Adriatico.
However, he heads into the Giro d’Italia with two months without racing.
The Colombian was slated to ride the Tour of the Alps last month, but opted out in favor of altitude training at home. While some of his rivals have logged recent race days in their legs, Bernal is confident he made the right call.
“I raced quite enough during the early part of the season. I decided to go back to Colombia when I did some altitude training,” Bernal said. “That was what I needed at that moment. I’m sure we made the right choices and I hope I will be in good shape from the beginning of the Giro.”
The lack of racing immediately preceding the Giro d’Italia means Bernal may be missing some of the zip his rivals will likely have in the early stages, but it could also pay off in the final week of the when the GC contenders will be faced with a string of high-mountain tests.
Bernal knows he cannot let his guard down.
“Maybe it’s best for me that the toughest stages are at the end, but we need to pay attention from the first stage,” he said. “The Giro is a very unique race because it’s very easy to lose or gain seconds in any stages. Anything can happen, especially in the stages that look easy from an altitude point of view.”
Ineos Grenadiers packing a Giro punch with top squad
Backing Bernal at the corsa rosa will be a strong Ineos Grenadiers squad that includes Pavel Sivakov, Filippo Ganna, Dani Martínez, Gianni Moscon, Jonathan Castroviejo, Salvatore Puccio, and Jhonatan Narváez.
The Russian-French rider Sivakov finished ninth at the 2019 Giro d’Italia, and is poised as plan B should Bernal falter.
Sivakov is a proven stage racing talent, and is hot off sixth at the recent Tour of the Alps. While he dreams of riding into pink, he batted away the suggestion that he might be the team’s ultimate leader.
“I dream about it, otherwise I wouldn’t be at the start. Why not?… I’m not the only leader here at the Giro so we will see how it goes,” said Sivakov. “Egan wouldn’t be here if he wasn’t ready. We all know that he is here as one of the favorites. Of course, he will be the number one. He won the Tour, and I still have a lot to prove to be there among the GC favorites.
“I have been ninth before and being ninth and fighting for the win is a massive difference,” he said. “So, I will be there. I will try not to lose time and keep being up there in GC. If the team needs my help, then I will be here for the team. I guess the plan is to not lose time in the first week and we’ll see what happens.”