Egan Bernal heads back to Tour de France 'ambitious' but 'realistic'

The 2019 winner is targeting general classification at his first Tour since life-threatening accident

Egan Bernal at the Critérium du Dauphiné
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Egan Bernal will head to his first Tour de France since his life-threatening crash "ambitious" but "realistic" for what he can achieve, according to his Ineos Grenadiers team boss.

Speaking to the media on Tuesday, Ineos deputy team principle Rod Ellingworth confirmed that Bernal would be targeting general classification on his return to the biggest stage, but cautioned realism.

The Colombian broke 20 bones, as well as both his lungs collapsing, after colliding with a bus during training at the beginning of 2022. He had to undergo seven surgeries, including two on his spine; he said at the time that the accident left him with a  "95 per cent chance" of becoming paralysed.

"Egan being Egan, he's very ambitious, but he's also very realistic with what he can achieve. He wants to keep pushing himself," Ellingworth explained. "I think we know Egan is a proven winner. He's a fantastic role model for us and a road captain in a sense. 

"We were really open and very happy to give him this opportunity to see what he can do. He's certainly going to try on GC. As I said, he's very realistic, let's not pretend anything different. He just wants to GC. For him, it's just that next step of hopefully getting back to where he wants to be. He has a good head on his shoulders."

Bernal is one of five Spanish-speakers in the Ineos squad, with Carlos Rodríguez, Omar Fraile, Jonathan Castroviejo and Dani Martínez. These five are heading to Bilbao alongside Michał Kwiatkowski, Tom Pidcock and Ben Turner. Rodríguez will also target GC.

"I think for him [Bernal] racing with Tom and all the guys, there's such experience in the group and it's going to be a really good experience to race with Egan," Ellingworth said.

The 26-year-old finished eighth overall at the Tour de Romandie earlier in 2023, and followed this up with 12th at the Critérium du Dauphiné, his highest WorldTour GC results since the crash.

For another rider, there might be an element of anxiety over returning to cycling's biggest race, but Bernal appears to be ready for the experience.

"I think this is where this guy surprises me every day, he was right up for racing it," Ellingworth said. "As I've said all along, we've just kept the door wide open for Egan. He deserves the opportunity. He has a couple of falls since and shown how robust he is. 

"He's right up for it, he puts himself in the right place in the peloton every time. Mentally, I don't see any difference with the guy at all. If anything, it has made him stronger. He has had this major moment, which had made him a more rounded athlete. He is learning new things."

Ellingworth was realistic about Ineos' chances on GC at this race, with the Tour debutant Rodríguez and the returning Bernal leading the line against the dominant Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) and Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates).

"As a team, our ambition is still that we want to win the Tour again," he said. "This year we've selected a group of bike riders from a tactical point of view. They're all very agile, they're all proven winners. 

"We've got to be very realistic with where we are at this given time. We've got two guys, in particular, who we want to play that GC role with. Let's see where they get to. Then we have the whole group which is capable of winning stages."

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