Egan Bernal could define the next era of cycling, says retired Grand Tour star Alberto Contador.
Bernal will carry Team Sky’s hopes of overall victory at Giro d’Italia next month, in only his second Grand Tour.
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The 22-year-old rode the Tour de France last season in support of Geraint Thomas and Chris Froome, but Contador believes he is ready for his own chances in a three-week race.
Contador told Italian newspaper La Gazzetta dello Sport: “I like him so much. I think he can mark an era.”
Spaniard Contador retired in 2017 with seven Grand Tour titles, including two wins in the Tour de France, having since moved into team management.
Bernal was discovered by Italian manager Gianni Savio, winning the Sibiu Cycling Tour and the Tour de l’Avenir in 2017 while riding for Savio’s Androni Giocattoli – Sidermec team.
Team Sky bought Bernal out of his contract, with the Colombian going on to win the Oro y Paz stage race and the Tour of California in his first WorldTour year. This year, he has already won Paris-Nice overall.
Officially, Bernal is due to lead the team at the Giro d’Italia, but insiders say he could race the Tour de France as well.
Contador said he should focus solely on winning the yellow jersey.
“I think the ideal for him could be to concentrate only on the Tour, for me he is already ready for the yellow jersey,” Contador added.
“But it is not easy for Sky because Froome will go hunting for the fifth title and Thomas is in the team.
“On the other hand, a team like Sky cannot afford to face the Giro d’Italia without a great leader.”
Contador warned Team Sky against over-working Bernal, saying that the youngster should not ride both the Giro and the Tour.
“He is 22 years old and has so many seasons ahead. He must also be preserved and managed well.”
Contador also reflected on the early-season performances of his former rivals Froome and Thomas.
Froome recently crashed in the Volta a Catalunya and Thomas pulled out of Tirreno-Adriatico due to stomach problems.
“Surprised? Yes, it’s not normal for them,” Contador added. “In some races Sky was really missing something, but the season is long.”