It’s all happy families on the Ineos team bus – for now at least.
Having ruffled feathers and set the rumor mill ablaze in May with statements that he would not sacrifice his own ambitions to work for others at the Tour de France, Egan Bernal is adamant that all is well within the British superteam.
“It is not true,” Bernal said when asked if there was a rift with Chris Froome.
Shortly after the young Colombian made his defiant statements earlier this year, reports emerged that four-time Tour champion Froome was on the lookout for opportunities with a new team when his contract expires this winter. Bernal dismissed any link between his comments and Froome’s career deliberations.
“People took that as if he was mad at me, but he wasn’t,” Bernal told El Tiempo. “He was never upset with me for what I said. We are friends and we all want to get ahead, we want to win [the Tour] and the important thing is for the team to win; we are Ineos and the one who has to win is the [team] Ineos.”
Bernal will be riding as an equal with Froome, and teammate Geraint Thomas when defending his yellow jersey in France this summer. With Team Ineos long adopting a “let the road decide” policy to leadership, his statement “that I would sacrifice myself if I am at my 100 percent … I don’t think I’m going to do that” came as a shock to many. However, the 23-year-old feels the comments were misinterpreted.
“I think some people took what I said in an aggressive way,” Bernal said Sunday. “I said it because I felt it, and Froome also spoke, and that is respectable. The team is going to decide on one [team captain], but that’s [too] early to say. We have not even competed, to find out. We will have to wait until the first stages of the Tour. Also, it is a big question mark how each one [of us] is going to get there.”
While it had initially appeared that Froome may be looking to leave Ineos before the Tour rolls out of Nice on August 29, with just seven weeks until the Grand Départ, it currently seems unlikely. Bernal is keen to move on from past words and instead focus on what he has to do at the Tour.
“I am calm and we are doing well,” Bernal said when asked if he felt unsettled by potential tension within the team. “It is not worth getting into. What we have to do is when there is a mountain stage [is to] go forward. Chris, Thomas and I are very honest with each other. When we see that one is better, then we will help that one.
“One cannot say, ‘I am the leader,’ if I have to work for Froome I will; if he has to give himself up for me, surely he will, just like Geraint.”
Despite travel restrictions in place in both Colombia and Europe, Bernal and dozens of other South American pros are currently cleared to arrive in Spain on a chartered flight from Bogotá on July 19. From there, Bernal plans to kick-start his season at the Route d’Occitane on August 1. Having benefited from months at altitude in Colombia during the coronavirus racing stop, the Tour champion is confident of his form after the long season shutdown, and keen to get racing in his legs in the four weeks before his yellow jersey defense.
“Right now I am calm, I feel good, training in the best way,” he said. “There is still a long way to go for the Tour, and we have not yet competed to see where each one is [strongest]. I don’t know, a lot is missing. The healthiest thing for Egan Bernal is to think about trying to get to the Tour well, prepare better, be calm, train at altitude and get to the race to enjoy it.”