The team said it was nagging back pain. Others suggest he couldn’t handle the pressure.
Michał Kwiatkowski, a teammate on Ineos Grenadiers, believes Bernal could never get things on track during this COVID-19 season.
“The world is different this year. We have to take into consideration for Egan there was different preparation,” Kwiatkowski said. “Nobody had the golden recipe to get ready. We were trying as much as we could. Everything was looking great, and in the end, everything collapsed.”
Kwiatkowski had a front-row seat to Bernal’s struggles Sunday up the Grand Colombier. The defending Tour champion simply couldn’t match the pace set by Jumbo-Visma.
On Tuesday, Bernal struggled through the stage and finished in the gruppetto. The team pulled him out of the race Wednesday.
“He was suffering the last three climbs. It wasn’t easy for him,” Kwiatkowski said. “Those expectations, and how much he wanted, how much we wanted. It wasn’t easy for him. The most important thing is that he was trying and we will keep trying.”
Bernal certainly didn’t have his typical approach to the Tour. He raced at the Colombia Tour 2.0 in February but did not race in Europe until returning after lockdown in July. He won the La Route d’Occitanie in July but abandoned the Critérium du Dauphiné with back pain. The team insisted Bernal recovered, but by Wednesday, Bernal admitted his back and knee were both causing him pain.
Bernal’s departure from the Tour has also raised questions about the Tour selection, with a controversial decision that left Geraint Thomas and Chris Froome at home.
Kwiatkowski joined Team Sky in 2016 and rode on three consecutive Tour-winning teams from 2017-2019. The Polish star fully expected to ride into Paris for another victory parade.
“We did whatever we could,” he said. “That was the decision we took before the Tour. Up to then, we were racing a great Tour. Egan was close. You cannot look back. You can always speculate [on] what could be better. It’s all about today and tomorrow.”
Kwiatkowski said the team is trying to pivot toward winning a stage. Richard Carapaz was in breakaways both Tuesday and Wednesday.
For Kwiatkowski, Bernal’s unexpected flaming-out will give him room to move if he has the legs. Though he did not make the Colombian team selection for the world championships in Italy, there are the Ardennes and northern classics, and maybe even the Vuelta a España alongside Chris Froome.
“Many times in my life people say that the course is good for you. It’s all about the legs,” said Kwiatkowski, a world champion in 2014. “Coming out of the Tour, it will be important to recover quickly. I will be fully focused on 27 September.”
Kwiatkowski also hinted he will be extending his contract with Ineos Grenadiers. His contract is up at the end of 2020, but he hopes to stay with the British powerhouse.
“We don’t have the final agreement, but we are both happy about the future and how I develop as a rider,” he said. “I always have opportunities in big classics. I would love to stay and the team would like to keep me.”