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Only seven riders in the history of professional cycling have ever won all three grand tours during their respective careers.
Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers) has a chance of joining that elite club as its eighth member as he lines up for his debut at the Vuelta a España. The Colombian won the Tour de France in 2019 and notched up a dominant Giro d’Italia win earlier this year.
If he can lay claim to the red jersey, he would put his name in the history books alongside Jacques Anquetil, Felice Gimondi, Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault, Alberto Contador, Vincenzo Nibali, and Chris Froome as winners of the grand tour hat trick.
Bernal starts the race as one of the big favorites for glory, but the challenge will be a ride into the unknown as he has never done two grand tours in a single season.
“For me, doing the three grand tours would be like a dream. I think it is my biggest goal in my career now, to complete these three big races,” Bernal said in a press conference at the Vuelta a España.
“It’s the first time that I’ve done two grand tours in one year during my career so I don’t know how my body will react. I’m feeling good but I don’t want to put too much pressure on myself. I just want to do this race and what happens, happens. I just want to see how I race two big tours in one year and, for sure, if I have the opportunity to win, I will go for it.”
Too many cooks?
Bernal won’t be the only grand tour winner representing Ineos Grenadiers at the Vuelta a España. The 2019 Giro winner and recently crowned Olympic road race champion Richard Carapaz will be on the start line in Burgos on Saturday. Stage race talent, Adam Yates will add some more GC firepower to the squad.
It is reminiscent of the multi-leader approach taken at the Tour de France last month. The tactic of piling the squad deep with potential winners didn’t work out with Carapaz the last man standing for Ineos in the GC, taking third behind Tadej Pogačar and Jonas Vingegaard. Bernal believes it is fruitless to compare the Vuelta squad with the Tour’s and the team will take things as they come.
“I think every race is different. We can’t compare the Giro with the Vuelta or the Tour with the Vuelta. Every race is completely different and I think every big tour is different, too,” Bernal said. “We need to see how we are. It’s difficult to know how we are. We have raced a lot this year and we don’t how it will be with this weather, with the hot conditions, how we will react. I think we need to be calm. We need to be honest and to say how we are feeling.”
Alongside Bernal, Primož Roglič is the other five-star favorite for victory at the end of the three weeks.
Roglič is also looking to make history at the Vuelta by becoming only the third rider to win three consecutive GC titles. The Slovenian had targeted the Tour de France but crashed out during the first week. However, he bounced back to claim a convincing time trial win at the Olympic Games.
In a Vuelta bookmarked by time trials, Bernal and his teammates will need to get a buffer on Roglič during the intervening three weeks to ensure the Jumbo-Visma rider doesn’t ride away with his third title. For Bernal, beating Roglič will be about patience and timing the moves correctly.
“I don’t know which strategy is the best. First, you need to have the legs to attack. It’s not that easy to keep attacking,” Bernal said. “We need to see, we need to be calm and then wait for our opportunity.
“Roglič is the Olympic champion in the TT and on the first day we have a prologue and then, on the last stage, we have another TT. People like me will lose a bit of time there. We have to be patient and wait for our opportunities. It’s a three-week race and if you have the legs there will be opportunities to do something.”