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Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) and Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) have been a cut above in this year’s Tour de France with both riders constantly distancing themselves from the rest of the pack in the mountains, but Ineos Grenadiers deputy team principal Rod Ellingworth believes that Egan Bernal has the ability to match the pair when it comes to climbing.
The Colombian is currently in the middle of a period of rehabilitation following a career-threatening crash earlier in the year, and while that road to recovery has been long and hard Ineos Grenadiers has patiently waited for their star rider to heal before announcing his comeback schedule.
It’s clear that Bernal will race again this year but his grand tour plans look certain to wait until 2023. The 2019 Tour de France winner was the leading rider of his generation until Pogačar and now Vingegaard were ushered through, but Ellingworth is adamant that his star pupil will one day be able to match this year’s best at the Tour.
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“We’ve got a couple of guys who can climb similar speeds,” Ellingworth told VeloNews in relation to best climbing performances seen at this year’s Tour. “I think that Egan can climb at that rate.”
“Obviously without Egan this year it’s made a big difference to us as a team. That’s the biggest blow that we’ve taken all year but I think that Egan is capable and if I’m really honest I think that Egan has only scratched the surface of what he’s capable of. I think he can come back and he’s doing really well at the moment. Let’s hope he can do something really special.”
Bernal did race the Tour de France in 2020, the first year Pogačar won the race, but the Colombian was nursing a back injury in that edition of the race and ended up abandoning before Paris. He has never faced Vingegaard in a grand tour.
“Obviously there is an achilles heel with some,” Ellingworth said in relation to Bernal’s time trialing, “but again I think that we’ve just scratched at the surface of what he’s capable of to be honest.”
Ineos is set to ride into Paris on Sunday with third overall, courtesy of Geraint Thomas. The Welshman has ridden a tactically astute and consistent Tour de France, never going too far into the red but unable to match Pogačar and Vingegaard in the high mountains. The 2018 Tour winner has still been far better than the rest of the GC contenders, and he holds over a three-minute lead over fourth placed rider, David Gaudu (Groupama FDJ).
“Geraint has been as solid as a rock. He’s been Mr. consistent in terms of what he did,” Ellingworth said.
Asked if this was Thomas’s best ever overall performance at the Tour de France, rather than his best result, Ellingworth told VeloNews: “I think so. I think that he’s moved on since when he won it in 2018 and when he was second in 2019. He’s moved on. That’s all you can ask from someone. I don’t think that he could have done any more and in fact I think that he’s ridden a perfect Tour for him in many respects.”
Later, as he warmed down outside the team bus, Thomas would remind VeloNews that he had been leading out riders as recently as the Tour de Suisse in June. His reinstatement as a grand tour contender looks complete and there is every indication that he could lead Ineos into a grand tour in 2023.
“You can never say never, especially with someone like Geraint,” Ellingworth said when asked if he believed Thomas would be able to reach a grand tour podium in 2022 after two poor seasons of three-week racing.
“But the older these guys get the harder it is. With that new wave of guys coming in, but you never say no. But one thing is for sure, and that’s that he never gave up. When I met with him in the winter it was quite clear that he wanted to race and that he wanted to see how he could do it. I’ve never known anyone who is quite so strong in the mind as Geraint.”