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The Colombian added yet more time to his growing lead in the pink jersey Monday, with a brutal attack in horrible conditions on the Passio Giau. Bernal brushed aside old concerns about his form and back, and stamped his authority all over the Italian grand tour.
His Giro dominance led some to speculate that he might be interested in a spot on Ineos Grenadiers’ Tour de France team.
While the 2019 Tour winner has shown that he’s back to his imperious self, mounting GC challenges at the Giro d’Italia and the Tour de France in 2021 could be a step too far. Plus, he doesn’t want to step on anyone’s toes.
“I think I won’t go to the Tour. Normally, to do the Giro d’Italia and the Tour de France in the same year is really hard,” Bernal said from his team bus during a rest day press conference. “The team already has a good team for the Tour, I think the guys who are now in the team of the Tour are doing really good preparation and they will be able to do really good.”
If he was to ride the Tour de France in 2021, Bernal would have just under four weeks to recover from his Giro d’Italia exploits. Geraint Thomas, Tao Geoghegan Hart, and Richard Carapaz are all expected to line up in France, with the support of the likes of Rohan Dennis and Richie Porte.
What the rest of Bernal’s 2021 race calendar will look like is almost as much of a mystery as his antics on the Passo Giau. It’s too early to call for the 24-year-old, who wants to see how his back — and the rest of his body — is holding up after an aggressive three weeks of racing at the Giro d’Italia.
“Maybe I will do the Vuelta, I’m not sure about the Olympics because I’m still having this problem with the back, so I don’t want to squeeze my body too much. I just want to finish the Giro and then see how my body will recover and then think about the second part of the season,” he said.
Managing back problems
Bernal’s travails with his bad back have been one of the largest unknowns of the Giro so far. After cracking dramatically in the final week of last year’s Tour de France, it was unclear how it would hold up under duress in Italy.
There are still three very tough days in the mountains left in the Giro, but Bernal — and his back — have shown no signs of weakness thus far. Indeed, he has been imperious as he takes chunks out of his rivals on any uphill stretch of road.
The last few weeks have been as much about what he does with his body off the bike as on it and, so far, it has held together – even if there are still some niggles to cope with.
“It’s good enough to be there and I’m keeping doing all the exercises and physio two times a day,” Bernal said of his back. “I’m doing everything to keep my back in good shape. Sometimes, I feel some pain in my back, in the glutes. It’s not the best thing but I also need to say that when I need to go full gas, it’s more the pain in the legs than in the back, so it’s something good.
“I just need to find the balance, keep working on my back but also not to panic because I think it will crack again.”
Cuando te preguntan cómo estuvo la etapa? pic.twitter.com/ezoNTOPRb0
— Egan Arley Bernal (@Eganbernal) May 19, 2021
Though he may be next to unbeatable in the mountains, the final-day time trial could prove a difficult hurdle for Bernal.
A week ago, as he sat down for his first rest day press conference, Bernal was calculating how much time he would need to ensure he could stay ahead of the then second-placed Remco Evenepoel in Milan.
With the Belgian grand tour debutant falling away from GC contention over the last week, Bernal’s concerns have lessened. Tobias Foss, Aleksandr Vlasov, and João Almeida are the strongest of the current top-10 against the clock, but none are at all likely to gain the time they need to overhaul Bernal – if he can maintain the advantage that he has.
“I think it should be enough with the time that I have. It’s almost two and a half minutes. The time trial will be the last stage, so you need to also recover well and be in good shape for the last stage of a grand tour,” Bernal said.
“I would say that with the time that I have, and everything goes as normal, I should keep the jersey in the time trial. I’m not a specialist but to lose two minutes and a half would be hard.”