Egan Bernal is looking for salvation in the high mountains of Italy this year.
The Colombian star is racing the Trofeo Laigueglia on Wednesday to mark the start of an Italian-themed block of races ahead of his debut ride at the Giro d’Italia in May.
After seeing his season come to an abrupt halt in the Alps of the Tour de France last year, the 24-year-old is hoping to step out of the shadow of his injury-plagued Tour defense when he takes command of Ineos Grenadiers at the Giro.
“My objective for the Giro this year is to get back to being the Egan who likes to attack, the Egan who isn’t afraid of getting dropped,” Bernal told La Gazzetta dello Sport. “I’m preparing myself 100 percent to arrive well.”
Though the 2019 Tour champ lost the final months of last season as he worked to rebuild and recover from back and hip injuries, team sport director Xabier Zandio sees hints of Bernal coming back to his best.
“I see him well, wanting to redeem himself this season,” Zandio told AS. “He’s young and always wants to achieve more. He responded well in the two French races in February, and when the season opens you don’t know how your body can respond.”
After testing the waters in his season debut at Etoile de Besseges last month, Bernal played superdomestique for Ivan Sosa at the Tour de la Provence, punching home in the front group on stage 2 before helping set up his countryman and teammate for victory on the slopes of Mont Ventoux the next day.
Bernal was able to climb at the front of the pack on the vicious slopes to Chalet Reynard in a sign his legs were coming around. More promisingly, he said the back problems that have nagged him since last summer were manageable on the steep 10-kilometer ascent.
“On the Ventoux, my back didn’t cause me too much pain,” he said. “Unfortunately, I know I’ll have to live with the pain, at least for this year. I just want to enjoy the Giro, which I’ve wanted to do for several years. And what happens, happens.”