Egan Bernal’s manager from his first European cycling team says “people looked at him like a madman” when he proclaimed in 2016 the Colombian would one day with the Tour de France.
In an eye-opening interview with Spanish newspaper AS, Gianni Savio, manager of ProTeam outfit Androni Giocattoli-Sidermec, has revealed how he came to sign Egan Bernal in 2016 and what it was about the climber that initially caught his eye.
“The manager I had at the time proposed a cyclist to me who was like a rodent,” Savio says. “We were at the Agostoni Cup and I really didn’t need any more riders but I was looking for a young climber. He then told me: ‘I have him here.’
“When they sent me the tests they had done, that was a significant moment, that is where the story began. They had already proposed him to some World Tour teams but they were not convinced. When I saw those tests and talked to him, I signed him.”
It would be two years until the WorldTour came calling, with Bernal amicably breaking contract with the Italian team to sign a five-year deal with Ineos.
It was in Bernal’s very first race that Savio knew he had something special, though.
“The first time he raced with us was at La Méditerranéenne [a French 2.1 race]. On the last stage, he came tenth against a number of WorldTour riders and I then warned this boy was going to win a big race someday,” Savio said.
“Some people reminded me I’d said that last summer in Paris when he won the yellow jersey and I was very happy that people remembered. When I said it at the time everyone looked at me like a madman, but I knew I had something special.”
Not only were Bernal’s numbers up to scratch, but Savio saw that the then-teenager had the mental fortitude required to thrive as an elite athlete.
“At 19 he had the mental age of a 30-year-old. I will not forget the day he said: ‘Gianni, I am very grateful for everything you have done for me, but I am ready to compete in the best team in the world’. And he went on to achieve it.
“[What he’s achieved] fills me with pride. I owe myself to this damn passion that is cycling and cases like Bernal’s are what justifies it. It’s the only way, I work for that. My team has a budget between €2.5-3 million budget soI do not think about fighting with WorldTour teams who have budgets of €15-20 million.”
Having won his first Grand Tour at the age of just 23, many are now forecasting the young Colombian dominating the biggest bike races for years to come.
“I am convinced he can win several Grand Tours and that the Bernal era has arrived,” Savio said. “He has everything and knows what he wants. He has a good head and will not change. He has his life, his girlfriend, he won’t lose his mind. I think we will see him dominate cycling, although he will have great rivals.”
There is one particular rival Savio has in mind who is three years younger than Bernal and yet has already taken a number of impressive wins. The Italian believes Evenepoel could prove to be a great rival of Bernal in Grand Tours to come.
“One we are seeing here in San Juan is Evenepoel. I don’t know him as a person, but as an athlete he’s impressive. It will also depend on the course of the Grand Tours [as to whether he can challenge Bernal for GC victories]. If Egan can make a difference in the high mountains, Remco on the flat is a phenomenon, and for that reason, I think he can fight for a Grand Tour himself one day.”