There will be mixed feelings for Egan Bernal after proving his recovery is on the right track, finishing second behind team-mate Iván Sosa on the Mont Ventoux stage of the Tour de La Provence.
The positives: his fellow Colombian had taken the stage win and overall lead for the Ineos Grenadiers, and he showed his form is intact after a 2020 season derailed by injury. The negatives: he is resigned to racing with this back pain throughout 2021.
Bernal closed down Julian Alaphilippe's (Deceuninck - Quick-Step) attempts to bridge across to Sosa, then finishing ahead of the Frenchman to take second place at Chalet Reynard, and a buffer behind Sosa in the GC, the top two likely to remain untroubled on the final stage four.
The 2019 Tour de France champion says he is feeling good ahead of building up to his debut Giro d'Italia, a statement clearly evidenced by his performance up the mythical climb of Ventoux, but that his back troubles will be something he has to monitor as he looks to add further accomplishments to his yellow jersey of two years ago.
"My back didn't hurt very much on Saturday, but I still feel it a bit," Bernal said after the stage. "That will not just go away and I will have to deal with it this season. However, this second place gives me confidence for the coming races.
"I am really very happy for Iván. This feels just as good as winning your own. We managed to get through the first two stages without damage and our strategy was to shake things up a bit earlier in the Ventoux stage. The stage went perfectly. How is my condition? I am happy and I feel good."
Retired Colombian pro Luis Saldarriaga has pointed out how Bernal has visibly adjusted his bike position to deal with his back problems.
"It is clear that Egan Bernal, for this year, his measurements on the bike have been modified, as a result of his injury, biomechanical adjustments, the angle of the knee, and that of the hip is significant. His hip swing is already less," Saldarriaga said.
Back in October, Bernal revealed his issues stemmed from him having one leg longer than the other.
"The problem I have is that I have one leg longer than the other and that’s caused me to have scoliosis in my spine and a disc in the spine managed to puncture a nerve that supplies the gluteus and goes down to the leg," he explained.
"It is exactly in the place where it hurts, but it is something that still cannot be sorted with surgery, it is not recommended. Instead: rehabilitation, ultrasound, trying to lower the inflammation and then beginning to strengthen the lower back so it can hold the disc and put it back in place."
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