Tour de France

Bernal dedicated to Froome, fulfilling childhood dream in Tour debut

Although Egan Bernal is touted as Colombia's next big thing, he's content to play a support role to Chris Froome in Tour de France.

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SARZEAU, France (VN) — All eyes are on Chris Froome at the Team Sky bus, but the Tour de France’s youngest rider is getting his fair share of attention.

Egan Bernal, the highly touted Colombian climber making his Tour debut, might be seeing even more media attention if he does something spectacular later in this Tour.

So far, Bernal is following team orders and trying his best to stay out of trouble and survive the first week.

“My job is to help Chris 100-percent,” Bernal said. “I am in a good condition and I would like to help him with his fifth Tour. That is my only job here.”

Many were surprised that Sky tapped Bernal to back Froome as he makes a run at the Giro-Tour double. Just 21, Bernal raced two seasons with Androni-Sidermec, but missed out on racing the Giro d’Italia because the team was not invited when Bernal was on the team.

Following a spectacular spring with his move to Team Sky, including overall victories at the Oro y Paz race and the Amgen Tour of California, everyone saw Bernal’s tremendous potential.

After riding to second at the Tour de Romandie, Bernal was on the short list to make the Tour team.

Sky sport director Nicolas Portal said Bernal was too good to leave at home.

“We are putting no pressure on him at all,” Portal said. “He is here to help Chris in the mountains. We all saw how good he was racing this season. He is a special rider. He deserves to be in the Tour.”

Chris Froome and Egan Bernal were introduced to the crowd at the teams presentation. Photo: Justin Setterfield/Getty Images

Many expected Bernal to make his grand tour debut at the Vuelta a España later this season, but Team Sky couldn’t resist. For Bernal, who once studied journalism before dedicating his future to bike racing, it was an important milestone to join Sky at the Tour.

“More than surprised, I was proud,” Bernal said. “When I was second in Romandie, I thought maybe they will call me to come to the Tour. But when that call came, I was so proud of myself.

“When I was young, I was watching the Tour de France on TV with my father,” he said. “And I told him, one day I will go to the Tour. When they called me to come here, it was crazy. I was so proud.”

Bernal’s Tour debut started out a bit bumpier than he had hoped. He crashed in stage 1 and lost 1:15 on the first day. He revealed some panache that day when he rode on the wheel of national hero and archrival Nairo Quintana (Movistar), who had also crashed, and didn’t take one pull.

After winning last year’s Tour de l’Avenir, Bernal is hyped by many as Colombia’s next big thing. Many close to him are surprised how mature and level-headed he is for a rider who is not only making his grand tour debut but doing it with such coolness.

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“They cannot compare me to Nairo. He is one of the best of the world,” Bernal said. “I have not won one grand tour. I can be a one-week racer. Maybe I cannot recover in a grand tour. We do not know what I am capable of yet. We cannot speak of this. We cannot say that I will be the next Nairo or the next Rigo [Urán].”

Even if Team Sky is coming with Froome and Geraint Thomas as their two protected riders, Bernal managed to finish with the front riders in Monday’s team time trial. The team’s second place ride pushed him back up the leaderboard to 31st at 1:19 back and second into the white jersey ranking.

Bernal said he’s starting this Tour with the only ambition of helping Froome win a record-tying fifth yellow jersey.

“If the white jersey comes, maybe if I am with Froome in the front in the mountains, maybe I can take the white jersey. But if it not my objective,” Bernal said. “My first goal is to help Chris. Of course, I would be proud if I can take the white jersey, but it is better to take the yellow jersey.”