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Bernal not prepared to be sacrificed in Tour de France defense

Young Colombian shoots out warning to Tour co-leaders Froome and Thomas.

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Tour de France champion Egan Bernal has made clear he won’t give away an opportunity to defend his title this summer.

Should the Tour start as rescheduled on August 29, Team Ineos is likely to be sending a trio of leaders to roll out at the Nice Grand Départ, with four-time winner Chris Froome and 2018 champion Geraint Thomas heading the squad alongside Bernal.

In recent months, two of pro cycling’s major talking points had revolved around if and when Froome would recover from his career-threatening crash last June, and if the Tour de France would be able to take place after the coronavirus shutdown. With the Tour now due to go ahead and Froome indicating he’s back to grand tour form, the next question could be who leads the powerful Ineos team in France.

“I understand the team in this situation,” Bernal told Eurosport‘s La Montanera. “For the team, it can be interesting with Chris Froome who wants his fifth Tour, or Geraint Thomas his second. Both are British, just like the team, and that’s something important for them, so I understand the position of the team.”

While showing deference to the team and the narrative it may choose to spin when dictating team leadership, the 23-year-old Colombian threw out a warning to his co-leaders.

“I’m young, even though I’ve already won one Tour de France, I’m not going to throw away an opportunity to win another,” Bernal said. “That I would sacrifice myself, if I am at my 100 percent… I don’t think I’m going to do that, nor will he, nor will anyone.”

The Ineos/Sky franchise has had to manage internal politics throughout its years of Tour de France dominance, with Froome and Bradley Wiggins, Froome and Thomas, and Bernal and Thomas all finding themselves sharing the podium in Paris in 2012, 2018 and 2019. The team’s deft handling of egos and ambitions has delivered seven of the eight past yellow jerseys.

When faced with difficult questions over team leadership in the past, Sky/Ineos heads have trotted out the trademark ‘we let the road decide’ explanation. Bernal fell back on the tried-and-tested response when speaking Friday, explaining that ultimately, form would dictate who heads up the trio of captains.

“What I think is going to happen is we wait to see how each rider arrives at the Tour,” he said. “For me, what the team’s doing is very good – waiting to see how each rider arrives and let the road will put everyone in their place.”

An American in France

What’s it like to be an American cyclist living in France? Watch to get professional road cyclist Joe Dombrowski’s view.