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What’s next for Egan Bernal? No GC ambitions in WorldTour comeback

Geraint Thomas also starts for Ineos Grenadiers after a long break as he chases form ahead of the Giro d'Italia.

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Egan Bernal is downplaying any GC ambitions in his high-profile return to the WorldTour this week at the week-long Volta a Catalunya.

Grand tour hammerheads Primož Roglič, Remco Evenepoel, Richard Carapaz, and Geraint Thomas fill out the superstar start list, but Bernal said he’ll be happy to follow the wheels in his 2023 European debut.

“I am very far from being able to challenge for any result here,” Bernal told CyclingProNet. “I am happy to be here. We’ll take it day by day, and I hope to feel better.

“Above all, I want to enjoy the race,” Bernal said. “I do not have any ambitions here. The form isn’t there after being off the bike for three weeks after San Juan, and I am realistic.”

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Bernal, 25, is racing in his first WorldTour race since finishing the 2021 Vuelta a España.

The Colombian superstar was nearly killed after colliding with a bus in training in early 2022 and battled back from injury and surgeries to race a few select races late last season.

His debut at the Vuelta a San Juan was curtailed by a knee injury that sidelined him for three weeks.

What’s next for the Colombian superstar?

Team officials are putting no pressure on Bernal, and there are no other races on his calendar after this week’s Catalunya race.

Coaches and trainers will see how he comes out of the rugged week of racing to determine where he might race next.

A start at the Tour de France is still on the table, but he would need to be able to prove he can go the distance in some hard races before tackling the unrelenting demands of the Tour.

Bernal will take on the Volta without pressure, but with the hopes of being able to ride his first full week of WorldTour-level racing in his legs in 18 months.

“The idea is to leave with good sensations,” the 2019 Tour winner said. “The season is long and there are a lot of races to come.

“I like the Volta, and I’ve raced here before,” Bernal said. “It’s good to race at the WorldTour level, and to get used to racing at this high pace again.”

Bernal finished safely in one of the front chasing groups in Monday’s opening stage at 10 seconds behind stage-winner Roglič in 32nd position.

An important test will come in Tuesday’s uphill finale to Vallter in stage 2.

Here’s what he said after losing 2:45 to the favorites.

“With everything that’s happened I’m feeling good, we knew before the start of Catalunya that I wasn’t going to quite have the form to be there at the front of the race, it was always about conditioning the body for future races,” Bernal said Tuesday.

“I’ve not been able to train as much as I wanted to, but with that in mind I’m pleased with how the final climb went today. The idea is to finish Catalunya in better shape than I started, and it’s a great and challenging race to do that, and it feels like it’s going well,” he said. “The other positive is I’m not suffering with any pain in my knee, which I’m happy about.”

Geraint Thomas: ‘It’s good to be back with the boys’

Geraint Thomas, right, returns to racing after a long break. (Photo: JOSEP LAGO/AFP via Getty Images)

Also returning this week for Ineos Grenadiers was 2018 Tour winner Geraint Thomas.

Thomas hasn’t raced since the Santos Tour Down Under in January. Illness derailed an earlier start to his European season, and he will be chasing form ahead of a run at the pink jersey at the Giro d’Italia in May.

“It was a solid day. It was a technical final, but we committed. We said we wanted to get Ethan in a good position for the last kilometer, and we did. It was down to the legs.

“For me personally, it was a shock to the ol’ system,” Thomas said. “I was expecting, but it’s nice after quite a long time without racing. It was good to be back with the boys.”

Thomas finished 112th in Monday’s opener at 47 seconds off the pace.

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