What's Cool In Road Cycling

TOUR Preview: Egan Bernal is Ready to Defend Title

Colombian rider Egan Bernal is ready to defend his Tour de France title. The 23-year-old member of UCI WorldTeam Team Ineos has been ramping up his training in his bid to become only the 13th rider to win the tour in consecutive years. To do so, Bernal, along with some fellow pros, sought a special exemption from the Colombian government to train outdoors, with the country closed due to a global health crisis.

In June, the reigning champ had already logged over 1,500 kilometers on mostly flat roads. Bernal, though, is said to have climbed a massive 30-kilometer ascent from La Vega to Alto del Vino from La Vega — underscoring his readiness for the upcoming Tour de France. Pundits, naturally, have taken notice of the young Colombian’s slow and steady return to form. In fact, Bwin Sports has Bernal as the overall favorite to win the world’s most prestigious race, just ahead of four-time winner Chris Froome, Slovenian sensation Primož Roglič, French rising star Thibaut Pinot, and 2018 champion Geraint Thomas.

Bernal, raised at the high altitudes of Colombia, is expected to lean on his climbing expertise in this year’s Tour de France, as he did last year. Still trailing the Frenchman, Julian Alaphilippe, at the start of stage 19, Bernal assaulted the tour’s penultimate climb — up the dizzying Iseran Pass (at 9,088 feet above sea level) — to not only overtake Alaphilippe as the overall leader, but also build a sizable lead going into the final two stages.

In fact, climbing proved to be Bernal’s biggest advantage last year, as we recapped here on Pez . With his remarkable assault on Iseran Pass, Bernal captured both the yellow and white jerseys in the same stage of the Tour de France, duplicating a feat only Laurent Fignon, Jan Ullrich, Alberto Contador, and Andy Schleck accomplished in the tour’s illustrious history. Another similar win is at play for cycling’s strongest climber, who is also the first South American to win the Tour de France and its youngest post-WWII winner (younger than all-time greats and five-time winners Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault and Miguel Indurain).

Bernal no doubt has set his sights on making more history, even building his season towards a return to the Tour de France. The young rider has had to overcome adversity throughout the year, including self-isolation upon his return to Colombia last March, dealing with the current health crisis, and the sudden death of Team Ineos sports director Nico Portal just prior to the Paris-Nice.

However, adversity hasn’t put a dampener on Bernal’s lofty ambitions.  MSN reports that the 23-year-old is also aiming to win the Giro d’Italia and the Vuelta a España as well, following in the footsteps of all-time greats Jacques Anquetil, Felice Gimondi, Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault, Alberto Contador, Vincenzo Nibali, and Chris Froomes as the only men to win all three Grand Tours.

But at the moment, Bernal is firmly focused on the Tour de France, which according to  ESPN , will start on August 29, and is scheduled to run through until September 20. It will end in Paris, as originally planned, and might very well see Bernal wearing the yellow jersey once again.

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