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Egan Bernal is hoping next season starts off better than how this one ended.
The 2019 Tour de France champion flamed out of his yellow jersey defense and has since been battling a back injury that seems more complicated than first indicated by team press releases a few months ago.
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Bernal, speaking to Colombian media ahead of the holiday season, said he is still uncertain if he will be able to race the 2021 Tour de France at full strength.
“I am preparing, but I am going step by step, with the mind focused on next year,” Bernal told Colombian TV. “I don’t have a calendar set or anything defined. Everything depends on the injury. Things are going well, but we have to take it easy.”
His uncertain future is in sharp contrast to how Bernal came into the revamped 2020 racing season on a high, winning the overall at the La Route d’Occitanie. After that, he shrugged off a second-place to arch-rival Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) at the Tour de l’Ain. There might have been some alarm bells when he pulled out of the Critérium du Dauphiné, but Ineos Grenadiers insisted that everything was on track for the Tour.
Despite starting off with some promising results in the Pyrénées, Bernal soon started to uncharacteristically struggle. Things came to a head on the mountaintop finale ending atop Grand Colombier. Jumbo-Visma, led by a brutal pace set by Wout van Aert, piled on against the struggling Bernal, and he soon lost contact. Bernal did not start two days later, and Ineos Grenadiers was out of the hunt for the yellow jersey.
“The 2020 season was full of lessons,” he told Colombian TV. “It was a complicated season. I am excited to start the new year.”
Bernal will return in 2021 to find a completely revamped Ineos Grenadiers lineup. Chris Froome is gone, and the team has signed a trove of all-around talent, with the likes of Richard Carapaz, Tao Geoghegan Hart, Pavel Sivakov, Geraint Thomas, and Adam Yates all angling for their chance to lead an all-star lineup.
“Right now I am only thinking about recovering, and feel like a cyclist again,” Bernal said. “Everything depends on how things evolve. The swelling keeps improving, and I can pedal without pain. One must also consider that when one returns to competition the efforts are completely different.”
So where does that leave Bernal in 2021? There have been some rumors that the team might send him to the Giro d’Italia, where he can race with less pressure and allow everyone to see where his condition and recovery stand before the intensity of the Tour. With the Olympics also on tap, Bernal will have plenty of options.
As he underlined, right now, nothing is certain for Bernal in 2021.