Egan Bernal will return to racing in Europe at the end of March, after a knee injury disrupted the start of his 2023 campaign.
According to a report from Cyclingnews, the Ineos man is set to race either the Volta a Catalunya or the Settimana Coppi e Bartali, depending on his form.
Bernal has made a remarkable recovery after a horrendous training crash last year, but Ineos are hesitant to place too much expectation on his shoulders. He does not have a guaranteed place in the team's Tour de France squad this summer.
“Egan will be back in Europe pretty soon and so hopefully, he'll be racing at the end of the month,” Ineos Grenadiers team manager Rod Ellingworth said.
“He's obviously been a bit frustrated but we're supporting him. It's been reported that he’s had a knee niggle, which has nothing to do with the crash or the accident from last year. Egan's eager to race but often with these guys, you’ve got to hold him back.”
Bernal has been one of the team's most successful riders in recent years, winning both the Tour in 2019 and Giro d'Italia in 2021. However, the troublesome knee injury- first reported at the Vuelta a San Juan- has meant Ineos have looked to protect the Colombian.
Ellingworth explained that even though the team are looking to be cautious with Bernal, the door is “completely wide open” for his Tour inclusion.
“What we know about Egan and what you could see last year, is that he's still prepared to put in the hard work for the team if he's the leader or not a leader. He's a bit like Geraint Thomas in that sense. They're great role models for the younger guys,” Ellingworth added.
“If Egan was fit enough, why would you not take him to the Tour for his experience and for the help he can give the team. The door’s completely wide open and the Tour is still four months away.”
Last year, Ineos Grenadiers failed to win any of the Grand Tours for the first time since 2014. During the off-season, they have brought in promising riders such as Thymens Arensman from DSM, but the likes of Arensman will need time to develop before they can become Grand Tour podium contenders.
Bernal’s injuries have left the team without a true Grand Tour contender, although Geraint Thomas still achieved third place at the Tour behind Jonas Vingegaard and Tadej Pogačar last year. Ineos have previously said that Colombian rider Dani Martinez and Spaniard Carlos Rodriguez will be two of their protected riders at this year’s edition.
“I don't think it's possible to win the Tour all the time,” Ellingworth concluded.
“Dani Martínez and maybe Carlos Rodriguez will be getting their opportunity at the Tour. I think it's an ideal Tour for Dani this year and he's still he's growing and improving.
“I think he's a really exciting bike rider, who just never gives up. He impressed at the Volta ao Algarve time trial this year to win the race, and again at the Tour de Suisse last year. I'm quite excited about Dani and what he could do at the Tour.”
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