The Colombian star leads the race by a considerable margin on the second rest day of the race, despite being uncertain of his form due to lingering back problems.
Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers) has been struggling with back issues for the last two seasons, believed to be caused by a discrepancy in the length of his legs, which forced him to abandon last year’s Tour de France.
But despite still suffering some discomfort due to the ongoing issues, Bernal is the clear favourite to win the Giro d’Italia after 16 stages, leading the race by more than two minutes.
Speaking during an online press conference on the second rest day Bernal, winner of the 2019 Tour de France, said: “The plan was to be a bit more conservative in the first part of the race, but once you are there in the front with the guys and then they start to move and attack, I also like to attack.
“And I think it's also because of the adrenaline. Sometimes on the bus we had the objective to not lose time but then once I was there I attacked to gain some time.”
Despite the uncertainty about his form, Bernal has dominated the middle week of the Giro, winning stage nine to Montalcino on the tough gravel finish to move into the race lead, then massively extending his advantage on the thrilling stage 16 to Cortina d’Ampezzo.
Meanwhile Bernal’s rivals have fallen by the wayside, as Remco Evenepoel (Deceuninck - Quick-Step) began to crack on the gravel stage to Montalcino, and Simon Yates (Team BikeExchange) slipped off the podium on day 16.
Bernal, 24, was an unknown quantity heading into the race, having not competed since Tirreno-Adriatico in March.
He said: “We were thinking we would lose some time up until the first race day, because their preparation for this year was not the best because of my back. But then I was in good shape and then I just took the opportunities. I think it was a good way to gain time.”
Bernal’s dominance in the Giro also prompted speculation that he could also competed in the Tour de France for Ineos Grenadiers, alongside likely team leader Geraint Thomas.
But Bernal said he doesn’t want to push himself too hard this season, due to his ongoing back problems: “Normally to do the Giro and the Tour is really hard. The team have a really good squad for the Tour. I think the guys who are now in the Tour team are doing really good preparation so I they can do really well. I prefer to just keep focusing on the second part of the season, and maybe ride the Vuelta [a España].
“I'm not sure about the Olympics either because I’m still having this problem in the back so I don't want to push my body too much. I just want to finish the Giro and then see how my body will recover and then just think about the second part of the season.”
But Bernal is still cautious about the final few mountain stages of the Giro, before the stage 21 time trial in Milan to decide the winner: “I am still doing all the exercises twice a day so I'm doing everything to keep my back in a good shape. Sometimes I feel some pain in the back, in the glute, so it's not the best thing, but also when I need to go full gas, there's more pain in the legs than in the back so that is good.
“I just need to find out the balance now, to keep working on the back but also be cautious because if not, I think it could crack again.”
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