Egan Bernal has barely finished his first race of the season and the only thing on everyone’s lips is the 2020 Tour de France, which is still four months away.
“Speaking now, it’s very easy to say ‘no, there will be no problem, everything will be quiet, blah, blah, blah’, and maybe things will get complicated on the road. But at this moment there is no point in thinking and killing my head about it,” Bernal said in an extensive interview with El País when asked about how Ineos will manage having four Grand Tour contenders in their roster this season.
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Richard Carapaz, recently signed from Movistar, will get headline billing at the Giro d’Italia where he will be defending champion. Then, the two previous Tour winners, Bernal and Geraint Thomas, will once again co-headline the British squad at the French Grand Tour. Chris Froome also faces a race against time to be fit enough to warrant inclusion in the eight-man team.
Team principal Dave Brailsford has said the team’s outright Tour leader will be decided on the road in France once more, but how does Bernal feel about it and how does he see this strategy playing out again this year?
“I think it’s a very good question, and even I don’t know the answer right now,” Bernal said. “Dave [Brailsford] is very, very intelligent, and knows how to organise things very well so that everyone feels happy about how we will go to the Tour.
“Once we are on the Tour, as long as they protect us through the flat stages, once the mountain arrives, with a rider like Thomas, or Froomey, and I really mean it, it is relatively easy to communicate. And the Tour is so hard that you cannot pretend when it is going well or when it is going wrong.”
Bernal says the culture within Ineos, one that has delivered seven Tour victories in the last eight years, is a ruthless one, and the team won’t hesitate to support their strongest rider when he emerges.
“If one of us is stronger than the other they will see and the team will have to make a decision [he snaps his fingers] because they will not let the Tour escape. At this moment, I see that I will have two very good team-mates, each have won the Tour, and they deserve all the respect in the world, just as I deserve it too.
“That’s motivation to train even hard and to say to myself ‘I’m going to win that position [of leader] in the team’. And if one of them is stronger, it will be difficult, but I will have to accept it and, perhaps, I will have to help them if they are stronger. And I think that they should be thinking that way too.”
There was talk a few months ago of Bernal attempting a Giro d’Italia and Tour de France double, but after the parcours were revealed him and his team decided this wasn’t the year for it, as well as the small matter of the Tour being moved forward one week closer to the Giro to make room for the Olympics.
“I was dead after the Tour. We prefer to be calm, I have many years ahead, the Giro is a race that I like too much. I was living [in Italy] for two years, and it’s in my head to do it, but I understand the team,” Bernal said. He hints that 2021 could instead be the year he goes for the Italian Grand Tour.