Egan Bernal has squashed rumours he is unhappy at Ineos Grenadiers, as he looks toward a return to the Tour de France in 2022, a year when he hopes he will finally have got his back problems under control and be able to regain his Tour-winning form of 2019 and challenge the Slovenian duo of Tadej Pogačar and Primož Roglič.
"No no no no. But it is not [like that], really," Bernal tells Spanish newspaper Marca (opens in new tab) of whether he fell out with his British trade team at this year's Vuelta a España, where he could only muster a sixth overall finish. "With Yates I got along super well. He seems like a super calm person to me. A classy cyclist. I really liked him. I think it was the first race I did with him and it was all great. There is no problem, really."
Rumours of this disquiet during the Spanish Grand Tour led to speculation that Bernal could leave for another team, potentially Israel Start-Up Nation.
"I never spoke to Israel," he continued. "Obviously many things are said, there is news. But I didn't want to get into that game of saying 'I'm not leaving'. Nothing ever happened."
Having returned to Grand Tour-winning form at the Giro d'Italia in May, Bernal confirmed his class after a difficult 2020 where Tadej Pogačar took the Colombian's place as the rider people now expect to win multiple Tours de France over the next decade.
The 24-year-old says it's now his intention to return to the Tour and fight for the yellow jersey, a two-year dry spell in France for Ineos is their longest since Bradley Wiggins won their first in 2012.
"It is true that I would like to return to the Tour," Bernal admits. "But I still cannot confirm it one hundred percent. We have to wait a little longer to know the plans for everything. My idea is to go to the Tour and I don't know if to the Giro. If it is not in 2022, I will return to the Giro very soon because it is one of the races that I like the most.
"I've been looking at some stages and I think it's an interesting Tour, as always. We will have to play well strategically. We will try to do our best. I think it's a pretty interesting Tour."
Bernal fends off questions as to whether he sees himself at the top table of GC contenders alongside Pogačar and Roglič, although the fact he can now fully push on the bike without back pain indicates he is on the right path to doing so.
"It is being a fairly long process," Bernal reveals. "I think we are on the right track. But the important thing is that I can squeeze 100 percent without pain."
This back issue has prevented him from improving his time trialling ability, an area where he will need to make up ground to Pogačar and Roglič.
"I think that in the time trial is where I lose the most time. This making some changes in the bike, in the position. I have hardly been able to work for two years because of my back problem. Now I am finally able to work again, also on the track and in the wind tunnel. I think we are on the right track."
But for Bernal, having already won two Grand Tours at 24 and forced to deal with all the trappings that come with being a cycling star in bike-mad Colombia, his hope over the next year is only to be content with life.
"If you ask me about a challenge for 2022, even though Ganna, Viviani and Sagan have told you [in Dubai at the Giro d'Italia Criterium] that the World Championships [is their aim], I answer that my goal is to be happy. It is above victories. It's what I want the most."
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Hi. I'm Cycling Weekly's Weekend Editor. I like writing offbeat features and eating too much bread when working out on the road at bike races.
Before joining Cycling Weekly I worked at The Tab and I've also written for Vice, Time Out, and worked freelance for The Telegraph (I know, but I needed the money at the time so let me live).
I also worked for ITV Cycling between 2011-2018 on their Tour de France and Vuelta a España coverage. Sometimes I'd be helping the producers make the programme and other times I'd be getting the lunches. Just in case you were wondering - Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen had the same ham sandwich every day, it was great.
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