While Froome was out with a broken leg, 22-year-old Colombian Bernal led Team Ineos at the Tour alongside Geraint Thomas and won the race overall. He became the youngest winner in the modern era. It could potentially create a situation in the team as Froome fights to return from his injury and tries to win a record-equalling fifth title in 2020.
“But I think Egan Bernal, his victory at 22 years old… I just heard that he said he might be willing to work for Chris Froome. Please, Chris Froome is not your friend. And the moment that you give a victory away to him, it will be a loss for his career and his life. Do not do that,” LeMond told VeloNews.
“I’m sorry, Chris Froome’s at the end of his career and this guy’s at the beginning, he should not give any gifts to anybody. It’s his for the taking and he’s stronger than Chris.
“And no doubt, at 22 years old, I would not relinquish any victory. I’m telling that to all young people, don’t get bought in by these people who seduce you because you’re a past Tour de France winner. Take your own direction, lead your own way because you don’t get a second chance.”
LeMond made history as the first American to win the Tour in 1986, when he was 25 years old. Then he had to fight for leadership with Frenchman Bernard Hinault. He returned and won in 1989 and 1990.
In the 2019 Tour, Bernal worked well with 2018 winner Thomas. In the same way, Bernal made his debut in the Tour in 2018. Then Thomas proved stronger and Froome helped him win and placed third overall.
Some expressed doubt on Froome returning or being able to reach the top level again after fracturing his leg in a June 12 training crash. The 34-year-old, who has yet to race again, said that it has provided him extra motivation.
LeMond took note of the current crop of young riders from Remco Evenepoel (Deceuninck-Quick Step) to Mathieu van der Poel (Corendon-Circus), and Tadej Pogacar (UAE Team Emirates) and Bernal in the grand tours.
“I’ve always argued this idea that you mature and evolve as you get older. It’s not true. They’re all excuses because true talent from Eddy Merckx, to me, to Hinault, was at 17, 18, 19 years old and you know, it’s a really good sign for cycling,” he continued.
“I know it seems kind of contrary, but I truly believe that when you have talent, it’s not even at 23 years old, it’s there at 19, 20. And you don’t have to wait.
“That’s why I think it’s great. I see these riders turning pro and I’m going, ‘Absolutely, yes!’ You just race a little bit lower volume because there’s no better training ground than racing.
“I turned pro at 19. And your body’s capable of it. I think I was stronger at 17, 18 than I was my first two years of pro life. I got thrown into this big gear training and super high volume and whatever, but I think I was stronger as a junior, 16, 17, 18, than in my first year as a pro. So there’s no reason you can’t compete.”
Bernal winning at 22 years old was the third youngest Tour winner, just older than François Faber, 110 years ago in 1909, and nearly two years older than Henri Cornet who won in 1904 at 19.
In recent interviews, Bernal said that he would work for Froome if he was stronger and that he would be honored to help Froome win a fifth title. Froome told France Télévisions that Bernal is prepared to support him in 2020.
“He has said he is,” Froome said. “I need to be the strongest. If he’s the strongest, then I’ll be happy if he wins, because that’s how racing goes – the strongest rider wins.”
Bernal told the website AS, “I don’t think it’s worth killing yourself trying to worry about who is going to be the leader and who isn’t.
“Last year I didn’t go to the Tour as the outright leader, either, and I won the Tour.
“The most important thing is not to make a decision out of fear of not being the leader. There’s understanding, and in the end, the strongest always wins. And on pitches at 20 percent grades, it won’t do any good to have someone wait for you.”