Of the 58 novices who appear on the starting line of the Tour of Spain, in Burgos, Saturday August 14 (until September 5), one name stands out. Egan Bernal, winner of the Tour de France 2019 and the Tour of Italy in May, tackles the first Vuelta of his career, with the ambition to enter – already – in the history of cycling.
At 24, the Colombian can become, in three weeks, the eighth rider to win the three big tours, after immense champions: the French Jacques Anquetil and Bernard Hinault or the Belgian Eddy Merckx, among others. “It would be a dream, the biggest goal of my career now”, admitted Egan Bernal.
He can also enter the very closed circle of those who have achieved the double Giro-Vuelta in the same year: only Eddy Merckx, the Italian Giovanni Battaglin and the Spaniard Alberto Contador have achieved this feat.
But if the child of Zipaquirá largely dominated the Tour of Italy, with in addition two stage victories to the key, three months later, his state of form questions. “This is the first time that I have done two big laps in the same season, I don’t know how the body will react”, he warned Thursday at a press conference.
Victim of Covid-19 in June
From the Giro podium in Milan, the climber had to isolate himself in Andorra, his place of residence in Europe, following a positive test for Covid-19 which occurred a few days after his victory. “It’s not the ideal preparation, but the feelings are coming back little by little. I hope to be competitive for the Vuelta ”, he said.
After a meeting in the Vatican with Pope Francis, Egan Bernal returned to Colombia. On his land, in addition to the celebrations for the second grand tour appearing on his record, he took advantage of the altitude to prepare for his end of the season.
Since the end of May, the one who is the 7e world rider in the UCI ranking, has raced very little, making his return to competition on July 31 in the Clasica San Sebastian (16e). A few days later, he took the start of the Tour de Burgos. This week-long race did not reassure his condition. Falling from the first stage, Egan Bernal finished in the 38e place in the general classification, more than ten minutes from the winner, the Spaniard Mikel Landa, also present on the Vuelta.
Perhaps the strength of Egan Bernal lies in the impressive collective of his team. Ineos-Grenadiers presents an armada at the start of the Tour of Spain: the winner of the 2019 Giro and very recent Olympic champion, Richard Carapaz; the 4e of the Tour de France 2016, Adam Yates; the young Russian climber Pavel Sivakov (24) as well as the new nugget Thomas Pidcock who will test himself for the first time in a three-week race.
” I think (Adam) Yates has been preparing for the Vuelta for a long time. He has not run the Giro and the Tour and is aiming for this race. Richard (Carapaz) just finished 3e du Tour then made the Games, he will be at a good level and, for my part, I hope to do well ”, sought to minimize Egan Bernal a few days before departure.
A hierarchy to be defined for Ineos-Grenadiers
This “casting” could however constitute a burden for Egan Bernal. On the Grande Boucle, the Ineos-Grenadiers team presented themselves with the British Geraint Thomas and Tao Geoghegan Hart, the Australian Richie Porte and Richard Carapaz. But the lack of hierarchy and the absence of a clearly defined leader upstream of the event led to a relative failure for the team managed by Sir Dave Brailsford.
“It’s not that easy to tell at the start who’s first, second or third. There are three of us aiming for the general, confessed the Eagle of Zipaquirá. The main thing is that we have a good team, it will be a question of being honest. “
Upon arrival on the Champs-Elysées in July, Ecuadorian Richard Carapaz was certainly on the third step of the podium, but Geraint Thomas and Richie Porte disappointed. Thomas suffered a dislocated shoulder from a fall in the first week, eventually ranking 41e, while Porte, who placed third in 2020, did no better than 38e.
Above all, the ex-Team Sky has never been able to influence the race or worry the Slovenian Tadej Pogacar. The team even gave the impression on several occasions of running strategically upside down. This is too little for a team that had won the Tour de France, with seven victories in eight editions, between 2012 and 2019, the year of Egan Bernal’s victory.
In the Tour of Spain, the Colombian will have no room for maneuver. He should be especially wary of Primoz Roglic. “I don’t think it’s just Egan (Bernal) vs (Primoz) Roglic ‘, he relativized.
The Slovenian will be particularly revenge after his abandonment of the Tour, caused by a fall. Like Egan Bernal, Primoz Roglic can write history too. By winning a third consecutive Vuelta, the Olympic time trial champion would join Alberto Contador and Switzerland’s Tony Rominger in the wins standings, just behind Spaniard Roberto Heras (four wins).
This duel will end in Santiago de Compostela, Sunday, September 5. It promises to be exciting.