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Gianni Savio: Egan Bernal can return as ‘Tour de France protagonist’

Italian manager who signed Colombian to first pro contract cautions 'full recovery will only happen with patience.'

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Gianni Savio is confident Egan Bernal will be back.

A half-decade ago, the iconic Italian team manager helped usher a then-unknown Bernal into the pro ranks.

On Sunday, Bernal left a Colombian hospital barely two weeks following his horrific training crash, something Savio said is “already a great sign.”

“His injuries are very harsh, but he is such a strong athlete and an even better person,” Savio told VeloNews. “I am convinced, knowing the mental strength that he has and given him the time that he needs, he can return to be a protagonist in the Giro d’Italia or the Tour de France.”

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Bernal, 25, checked out of the Colombian hospital Sunday after undergoing no less than five surgeries to treat a horrific injury list that resulted from a high-speed impact with a parked bus during a training ride January 24.

“I am very grateful,” Bernal said Sunday. “One moment I was preparing for the Tour de France, and the next second, I was fighting for my life.”

On Monday, Bernal posted a photo on social media of himself surrounded by family and friends, with the message, “Happy to be reborn.”

Officials from La Clínica de La Sabana confirmed Sunday that Bernal will begin working on rehabilitation for a long list of injuries that includes 11 broken ribs, a broken knee cap and femur, two fractured vertebrae and a thumb.

Gianni Savio: ‘Already a good sign’ that Bernal leaves the hospital

Savio remains close to Bernal, whom he signed to his first pro contract in 2016 at Androni Giocattoli-Sidermec (now Drone Hopper-Androni Giocattoli).

Bernal raced two seasons with Savio’s ProTeam-level squad before joining the WorldTour with Team Sky in 2018. A year later, Bernal made history by becoming Colombia’s first Tour de France winner.

Savio said after working closely with Bernal that he is confident the Colombian can have a full recovery.

“That he is out of the hospital already is a good sign,” Savio said in a phone call. “For such a young man, he has the mental strength and equilibrium of someone in their 30s.

“I told the Colombian fans to not put pressure on him,” Savio continued. “We need to give him the time he needs to recover. All of 2022 will be about recovery. From 2023, then he can be back and try to become the great champion that he once was.”

2019 Tour de France winner Egan Bernal (pictured here in 2017) spent his first two years in Europe racing for the Italian Androni franchise. (Photo: Getty Images/Tim De Waele)

Savio sent Bernal a private message in the wake of the accident and closely followed the medical updates coming out of the Colombian hospital.

Savio, who’s managed teams inside the Italian league for more than three decades, compared Bernal’s crash to what happened to Marco Pantani in 1995.

Pantani also suffered horrific injuries after striking a vehicle during Milano-Torino that many thought might end the Italian’s career, but he was able to recover and race for many more years.

“I remember the crash of Marco Pantani near Torino, and he was able to recover and he could come back to be a big champion,” Savio said. “The fact that Egan could already leave the hospital is a great sign, because now he can begin the rehabilitation.”

Right now, medical officials are not putting any timeline about a Bernal comeback, but suggested signs were encouraging for a full recovery.

“He’s ready to start his rehabilitation process,” doctors said Sunday. “There are no complications, and all the injuries are stable and in the process of recovery.”

Savio said patience is key when recovering from such a devastating injury, and urged fans and media to give Bernal space.

“You have to have a lot of patience, because full recovery will only happen with patience,” Savio said. “I know the tremendous mental strength that Egan has.

“I remember when he was on my team, he said to me, ‘I feel great on this team,’ but he said he wanted to join the best team in the world,” Savio said. “I told him, that is fine, because that reflects a great drive and ambition. He wanted to become the winner of the Giro and the Tour, and it’s with that same strength and conviction, he will be able to overcome this.”