Ineos Grenadiers’ Egan Bernal has told Italian newspaper La Gazetta dello Sport that the back pain which ruled him out of the Tour de France in 2020 still persists, and that he will be taking a “day by day” approach to the Giro d’Italia when it begins this weekend.
The interview comes a day after Ineos Grenadiers announced it would be sending Bernal and Pavel Sivakov to the Giro as “co-leaders”.
“I still feel something in my back some days but things have improved lately and are getting better with lesser training loads,” the Colombian told La Gazetta. “I hope everything is okay and that it holds up for all the Giro.”
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Bernal will not be alone in these hopes. He has been most pundits’ favourite for the Giro crown, despite not racing since Tirreno-Adriatico.
“I think my (back) situation is improving. After Tirreno-Adriatico I was able to train well at altitude in Colombia and did a good block of work. In the last few days, I’ve been working on my intensity and I hope to be in good shape right from the start of the Giro.”
Bernal was by no means bullish about his prospects.
“Everything will depend on how my back responds. If everything will be okay then I’ll focus on the overall classification and the fight for the maglia rosa in Milan. We’ll see day by day because I haven’t raced for two months. It’s useless to make false promises.”
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It feels as though the wheels are – if not falling off, then at least beginning to creak – for Ineos’ Giro campaign. Bernal has been the strong favourite for the race for months, but we also have not seen him in action racing his bike much – creating the feeling of an unknown quantity. Whether this was a deliberate tactic by the team’s management to lift some of the media pressure from Bernal’s shoulders, or stems from genuine doubts about his condition is unclear.
What we do know is that you can’t write Ineos off. They lost Geraint Thomas in the 2020 edition and still produced an overall victory, and if Bernal is forced to withdraw there is plenty of talent waiting in the wings.
The ‘co-leadership’ with Sivakov places another question mark over Bernal, or at least how well Ineos believe Bernal can do. Sivakov is by no means a donkey – another of the myriad talents at Ineos who could easily lead the GC ambitions of a host of other WorldTour teams going to the Giro – but elevating him to ‘co-leader’ feels, at the very least, like an indication the team is not wholly convinced of Bernal’s ability to deliver the goods.
Le Tour, of course, takes ultimate precedence for Ineos, and they wouldn’t consider pilfering from their roster for that race to augment their firepower in the Giro. That being said, there are other options in the Ineos stable – namely Adam Yates, who is on blistering form and could provide Ineos with a genuine third option in GC. To leave him out of a Giro squad seems strange, given his stated main aim for the season is La Vuelta, a long way down the line.
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