Due to the cancelation of last week’s Colombia Tour 2.1, we have a host of features, interviews, photo galleries, and other stories to celebrate Colombian cycling as part of “Colombia Week.”
After scoring a yellow jersey in 2019, Bernal, now 24, first saw his title defense crumble in 2020 and then found his team bolstering its arsenal with a battery of new stage race talent. Meanwhile, Bernal’s teammates Tao Geoghegan Hart and Richard Carapaz enjoyed standout seasons in 2020 to stake their claim toward the top of the hierarchy at Ineos Grenadiers.
- How Ineos Grenadiers plans to win the Tour de France without Egan Bernal
- The questions facing Ineos Grenadiers’ eight grand tour contenders in 2021
- Generación Urán: How Rigoberto Urán blazed the way for Bernal, Quintana and today’s Colombian stars
Bernal now faces a make-or-break season leading his team at the Giro d’Italia, with a Tour de France start uncertain. The Colombian prodigy should have at least a decade left in his legs. But will he ever take a second Tour or is he destined to be a one-time winner?
Andrew: Yes – talent doesn’t disappear
Will Egan Bernal win another yellow jersey? Absolutely. There’s no taking away the innate talent that propelled him to the top step in Paris nearly two years ago. That simply doesn’t disappear.
Of course, rattling off yellow jerseys is never a given. Despite his hiccup in 2020, there is a lot in his favor to suggest that he will once again hit the top step at the Tour.
First off, being part of the mighty Ineos Grenadiers machine is a huge advantage compared to his rivals. Cycling’s richest team brings resources to play that other teams simply cannot match. And Ineos Grenadiers can afford to buy not only the best riders but also the best coaches, trainers, nutritionists, and all the back-room personnel that goes into winning the Tour. With his contract running through 2023, there’s still plenty of runway to see Bernal back in yellow.
The big question mark is his health. It’s been revealed that there are some biomechanical issues with Bernal, and one of his legs is slightly longer than the other. Bernal is now working with bike-fitting experts in Germany as well as physiotherapists to deal with the back problems that struck him during the Tour. If those issues are properly adjusted, then there should be nothing physically to impede his upward trajectory.
The other unknown for Bernal is his maturity and his ability to deal with the pressure that comes with the yellow jersey. When he first moved across to Ineos Grenadiers, he was riding in the slipstream of Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas. Last year, Bernal was feeling all the pressure, and he cracked.
It’s how he bounces back that could well determine his future as a Tour rider. Early signs at the Tour de la Provence were encouraging that he’s back on track.
There are two parts to the winning equation for any Tour de France; health and ambition. If he’s fully healthy again and has the drive to work and do the things he needs to do to win, there is no reason why he will become the Jan Ullrich of this generation.
Jim: No – Bernal’s Tour ship has sailed
Bernal’s lost 2020 season has left him out the back and with no way back on.
A lot changed within team Ineos Grenadiers last year while Bernal was kicking his heels in rehab, and he’s going to be hard-pressed to elbow his way back into the new-look team. With Carapaz and Geoghegan Hart establishing their three-week creds and Adam Yates and Richie Porte on board, Bernal is no longer the shoo-in leader with Geraint Thomas he may have been 12 months ago – and Dave Brailsford’s GC selections for 2021 proved that.
Bernal looked in good shape on the Ventoux last week, but racing across four days in Provence is not the same as three weeks of grueling racing at the Giro or the Tour.
With just half a season of conditioning in his legs from 2020, any weaknesses in Bernal’s armor and any kinks in his problematic hip will be blown wide open going into the second and third week of the Giro. He could get to the podium, but a win is unlikely. And no matter how it goes for Bernal in Italy, he won’t be sufficiently recovered to play a role in the Tour – heck, he won’t even be needed as Ineos Grenadiers sends Thomas, Carapaz, and Geoghegan Hart to battle for yellow.
So with his Giro and Tour chances limited and the likelihood of a Vuelta start only a remote possibility, Bernal could be facing a season where he doesn’t get the opportunity to re-establish himself within the Ineos hierarchy.
Bernal is signed with Ineos through 2023 and so time is on his side if he wants to wrestle his way back into leadership, and Thomas, 34, may not be racing much longer, which will give him further breathing space. But if he doesn’t bounce back with a bang at the Giro, and on the presumption that Carapaz, Geoghegan Hart, and Yates don’t totally implode in 2021, the Tour de France ship may have sailed without him on board.