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Tour de France

Bernal: ‘If I have to help Froome or Thomas, I will do it’

Colombian Tour champion pledges to play team game but maintains ambition of defending his yellow jersey this summer.

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Egan Bernal claims he is committed to racing for his team at this year’s Tour de France, not for himself.

The 23-year-old Tour champion has pledged his adherence to Team Ineos’ “ride for the strongest” ethic in a press conference this weekend – but maintains that he plans to win this summer’s race.

Bernal’s words come after a topsy-turvy few months for his team after his statement in May that he would be riding for himself rather than co-leaders Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas at this year’s Tour. In the weeks that followed, Froome’s future with the team was called into doubt as tensions between him and his young Colombian teammate simmered.

Then, earlier this month, the four-time Tour winner announced his forthcoming exit from the team. And now that chapter is closed, the next round of speculation over the politics and tactics of Ineos’ 2020 Tour challenge begins. For now, Bernal is towing the party line.

“I am paid to ride for Ineos, not for Egan Bernal,” he said. “We are clear that what matters is the victory of the team and that is a great responsibility. We are not going to do such bad things that lead the team to lose the Tour. The three of us are professionals, we know what it is to win the Tour, we are friends, honest, we speak and understand each other well.”

The Sky/Ineos team has successfully operated a “let the road decide” approach to leadership through its eight years of dominance at the top of the Tour. The tactic has come with its tantrums however, notably between Bradley Wiggins and Froome in 2012, and to a lesser extent, in some tactical misfires between Bernal and Thomas at last year’s race. Bernal insists that 2020 will see harmony between the Ineos trio.

“It is very simple to solve,” Bernal said. “It is from the first race to see how each one is and the team will see according to the results if they arrive with one, two leaders or a protected leader. This is a team that has all the experience in handling situations like these and if I have to help Froome or [Geraint] Thomas I will do it, as I am sure that they would do it with me as well.”

“I think this Ineos team leadership will be resolved on the road,” he continued. “This is a matter of patience and having our feet on the ground.”

Bernal and Froome rode for Thomas at the 2018 Tour. Photo: Justin Setterfield/Getty Images.

Bernal is set to fly to Europe today, Sunday, with dozens of other South American cyclists on a specially chartered flight from Bogotá. From there, he plans to head to Andorra to continue training at altitude ahead of getting his legs turning at pre-Tour races the Tour de Occitaine, Tour de L’Ain, and Criterium du Dauphiné.

Although Bernal insists he will play the team game at the Tour, August 29 – September 20, he maintains that he plans to win – but with age on his side, it’s not the be-all-and-end-all.

“Of course I am going to try to win it and if I succeed, well, ‘chimba,'” he said. “But if it does not happen, nothing happens. I am only 23 years old and have many things to do. I will have the peace of mind of having prepared and done everything well to win.”

With Froome on the way out of the team at the close of the season and 34-year-old Thomas coming toward the twilight of his career, Bernal has time on his side and a contract through 2023 in his pocket. He paid his respects to Froome, who he has ridden with through his first three seasons in the WorldTour. Next year, things will look a little different as the 35-year-old trades his dark red jersey of Ineos for the white and blue of Israel Start-Up Nation.

“I have great respect for Chris as he is a great champion from whom I have learned a lot,” Bernal said. “The Ineos statement on the occasion of his departure is very clear that they could not offer him a unique leadership, so the best solution for him is to change teams.

“This will be good for Chris but bad for us because from next year will be our rival. For now, I am happy to continue counting on him in this team, he will run the Tour with us and this is healthy for everyone.”