It’s a cliché that true champions are as gracious in defeat as they are in victory, but that is what describes Egan Bernal.
On the morning before stage 15 of the Tour de France, the Ineos rider could be spotted staring into the distance while waiting to sign in for the day’s race. Maybe he already knew then how everything would unfold.
After losing seven minutes on the Grand Colombier and falling out of contention for the overall classification, Bernal didn’t shy away from immediate questions about what had happened, speaking openly and passionately, confused as to how he “felt empty” when trying to muster the power to keep up with his rivals.
After an evening of contemplation followed by a rest day that would have given him some space from the circus of the Tour de France, the 23-year-old says he has “no regrets” about the defence of his title, and that no-one can ever take his 2019 win away from him.
“I feel a bit better today, a bit more relaxed because I have no regrets about what I did yesterday, what I’ve done during this season. I tried my best in every stage, we were fighting full gas for this race, this dream that we’ve had since the last Tour,” Bernal said.
“I gave everything I had, I was fighting until the final, from the first climb of yesterday’s stage, suffering [as the race went] full gas and I almost dropped, but I wanted to keep fighting until I was finally dropped. That’s it. I can’t change it. That’s cycling, that’s life.”
Bernal says he didn’t necessarily feel the pressure of wearing number one on his jersey, but more that he had to honour the race and try to win again, even if the sore back that has troubled him since the Critérium du Dauphiné was blunting his powers.
“When I put the number one on, I knew it’d be difficult to win again. I have enjoyed it a lot, I just tried every day to do my best, I don’t think I felt pressure, it was more a kind of respect for the race,” Bernal explained.
The Colombian has faced criticism from his national media after being unable to match Roglič and Pogačar but is defiant about what he has managed to achieve in his early twenties.
“I have won one Tour de France already and no-one can change that. I was the first Colombian rider to win it, I’m really proud of that, of what I did last year,” he said. “At 22 years old I had already won one Tour de France. I’m really happy because of that and for sure I will try again, I’m hungry to win races, but if I don’t win again no-one can change that I’ve won already.”
As for the rest of the race, Bernal may try and win a stage in the Alps, where he was expected to shine as the race rose above 2,00m of altitude, but only if his sore back allows it.
First of all, though, the humble Ineos man wants to take a leaf out of Chris Froome’s book when finding himself off-form and take some bidons for his team-mates.
“Firstly I would like to recover a little bit and then try to help the guys, maybe take some bidons to them, try to do this kind of work that I haven’t been doing. It’s something I want to do, help the guys enjoy the race,” Bernal said.
“Then I don’t know, try to go in a breakaway but without thinking about the GC. Maybe I’ll try and lose some time and then try to go in a breakaway, but it depends on how I’m feeling, also on my back, because it’s still a bit painful.”