Speaking the day after his dramatic meltdown on the Col du Grand Colombier on Sunday, the 23-year-old boldly vowed to battle back in years to come and sought comfort in what he’s already achieved.
“I’ve won one Tour already, and no one can change it,” Bernal said Monday. “I was the first Colombian to win it, I’m proud of that. And for sure I will try again … I’m hungry to win races. But if I don’t win again, no one can change that, I’ve won already.”
The man with number one on his back is now firmly out of the back of the GC battle at the Tour de France after being distanced early on the hors categorie summit finish in the Vosges this weekend, losing seven minutes as Jumbo-Visma romped up the road.
Having restarted the season strong with a win at Route d’Occitanie and taken second behind arch-rival Primož Roglič at the Tour de l’Ain, Bernal abandoned the Critérium du Dauphiné before the final stage with a back complaint. Before his mountain meltdown on Sunday, Bernal had been third on GC at his third-ever Tour having been left fighting for scraps on the tails of Jumbo-Visma in the two weeks of racing so far.
“I have no regrets about yesterday [on the Grand Colombier], about my season,” he said. “I tried my best, I did my best, and in every stage we did, we were fighting full gas for this race, for this dream that we’ve had since the last Tour. I’m relaxed because of that, because I gave everything.”
“I was suffering all day, and I kept fighting, finally I was dropped,” Bernal said of the dramatic 15th stage. “That’s cycling, that’s life; I can’t change it. Now we need to keep fighting.”
Bernal heads up a youthful new look Ineos Grenadiers team at the Tour, and despite playing the undisputed team leader while defending his title, insists pressure did not inhibit his performance.
“I tried every day to do my best. I didn’t feel pressure, it was more a respect for the race,” Bernal said. “I tried to arrive here my best because I know this is the most difficult race in the world, with the best riders.”
He may have a number one on his back, but defending champion Egan Bernal will be on bottle duties for the rest of this Tour de France.
“First I will recover a bit, then help the guys a bit – take some bidons to them, try to do this kind of work that I’ve never done… maybe I will try to go in some kind of breakaway, for sure without thinking about GC.”
There was no clear explanation provided by Bernal or his team as to what caused such a sudden turnaround on Sunday. However, the Ineos Grenadiers champion hinted that the back injury nagging him at the Dauphiné may be a factor, and that any skirmishes in the breakaway would be dependent on its progress.
“It all depends on how the feelings are and how my back is because it’s still feeling a bit painful. We will see.”