Colombian Egan Bernal is “not obsessing” with what will happen in the 2019 Tour de France, where he has promised to help Ineos team-mate Geraint Thomas defend his title.
Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) appears to be fading away from the overall lead. The Frenchman still maintains a 1-35 yellow jersey lead over Thomas in second. Bernal moved up after the Pyrenean mountains this weekend, now sitting fifth at 2-02 on the race’s second rest day in Nîmes.
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“Last year was different, with Geraint Thomas and Chris Froome as leaders,” Bernal said.
“This year they are letting me do my race on the final climbs. There is more responsibility. It’s very different to have this weight on my shoulders. Now I have the pressure to deliver but I like it. I am happy with how the race is evolving.
“I have the support of the team. Last year, I was helping G and Froomey, now I am one of the leaders of the team. It’s also nice because I am feeling good. I am doing a good race.”
After Froome crashed and broke his femur in June, Ineos named the 22-year-old Colombian as co-leader along with Thomas.
“I’m not obsessing on what lies ahead. I literally just look at the road book in the morning,” he added.
“I am not studying the climbs and obsessing over every detail. I honestly don’t think about it until we have the team meeting in the morning.”
Amazingly, Bernal is riding only his second Grand Tour after last year riding the Tour in support of Froome and Thomas. He has proved strong and up to it, however, winning Paris-Nice and the Tour de Romandie this year.
“Physically I am stronger this year than last year,” he said. “Last year, I was 21, it was my first Tour. So I am more mature now and I’ve learned a lot. I have a different mentality.”
That maturity shows. On Sunday, Thomas let him off the reins to allow him to follow Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) and his attack on the closing Prat d’Albis climb.
Now, he is pledging his support to Thomas with three big mountain days still to come. Thomas said today that if needed, he would call on Bernal. However, the team may still play Bernal to follow other rivals like Steven Kruijswijk (Jumbo-Visma) and Pinot, who sit third and fourth overall.
“Pinot’s very strong. We will likely see him on the podium in Paris, but there are several riders within 30 seconds of each other. Nothing is decided and every thing is still up for grabs,” Bernal explained.
“Kruijswijk’s very strong, too, last year fifth overall, he’ll be fighting right until the end, and we have to keep in mind.
“I’m not thinking about Paris. There is still a lot of hard stuff ahead of us. The most important things is to remain focused and take it day by day, and keep our options open.”