After his sensational Tour de France win in 2019 I couldn’t imagine anyone else getting close to Egan Bernal, the diminutive Colombian climber, for the next few years, such was the depth and manner of his victory.
He was young, only 22 at the time, and he surely had the cycling world at his feet!
Or so I thought. And I’m sure I wasn’t alone in that.
But then in 2020 it all fell apart. He was outpaced, out ridden and, in the end, dropped out, as another sensation, 21 year old Slovenian Tadej Pogacar trampled his countryman, Primoz Roglic, into the ground on an incredibly dramatic final time trial and took the title, the Tour and the yellow jersey in Paris that so many had thought was Bernal’s for the foreseeable future.
Bernal had been suffering with back problems we were told and, watching him struggle at the 2020 Tour, it was plain to see this wasn’t the same rider who’d blitzed everyone a year earlier.
Had it all just come too soon for the slightly built Colombian climber? Was it possible his body just couldn’t stand the strain? Or had too many doubts crept into his head?
There were many questions and very few answers as far as Bernal was concerned. So as the pandemic raged, and the Covid ravaged 2020 season came to a close I must admit I was beginning to have serious doubts about whether Egan’s 2019 Tour victory had just been a blip. Was he a one hit wonder or was there staying power yet in his slender frame?
Would 2021 see him pass Go and collect £200 or was he going to straight to jail?
As the 2021 season opened up Bernal’s light racing programme didn’t seem to offer any answers to the lingering doubts about his fitness and state of mind. In March a reasonable 3rd place at the Strade Bianche was followed up 2 weeks later with a less than inspiring 4th in the general classification (GC) at the Tirreno-Adriatico, finishing over 4 minutes behind his successor as winner of the Tour, Pogacar.
His team, Ineos Grenadiers and their impressario Sir Dave Brailsford, had made no secret of their intention to aim Bernal at the Giro-d’Italia this year, something which at the time indicated to me that he had perhaps fallen down the pecking order at the Grenadiers.
Was Old Kent Road and Whitchapel now the extent of his buying prowess, since Mayfair and Park Lane seemed to have slipped through his grasp?
Ineos team mates Adam Yates (brother of Bike Exchange’s Simon, winner of the 2018 Vuelta d’Espana), Geraint Thomas (winner of the 2018 Tour), Richard Carapaz (winner of the 2019 Giro) and Tao Geoghehan-Hart (winner of the 2020 Giro) all seemed to have moved ahead of Bernal, and had likely booked their births for the 2021 Tour, where Ineos would be coming in with an amazingly strong, multi-pronged grab for the yellow jersey. But all without their Colombian star, Bernal!
What was going on? Had he taken his Chance and gone back 3 spaces? Or was I being overly pessimistic? Was there yet a double 6 lurking somewhere in the arsenal?
After the Tirreno, we were told that Bernal was returning home for altitude training in his native Colombia and would not race again until the prologue, the first day time-trial, of the Giro.
So, no team training camps, no more races and a heap of lingering doubts. I for one, was unsure which Egan Bernal would turn up at the prologue. Would he be in the racing car or would he be lumbered with the old boot?
The first few days gave little indication of how Bernal was feeling, though his team mate, the outrageously talented Italian phenomenon and time trial (TT) world champ, Filippo Ganna, was heading the GC and looking majestic in pink, all the while blitzing the peloton every time he took up his domestique duties on Bernal’s behalf at the head of the Ineos train.
We wouldn’t really find out much about Egan’s form before stage 9; the first real GC test. A 158km mountain stage with 4 categorised climbs, several long, hard sections of gravel roads, and a finish up the Campo Felice (1655m above sea level) on yet more gravel, and a stage that many cycling fans (and I include myself in that number) had been eagerly waiting for since the route had been announced.
And it didn’t disappoint! Ganna put the hammer down on the early gravel sections and tore the peleton apart, putting Belgian sensation Remco Evenepoel in trouble right away. Ganna threw double after double, whittling the peleton down to a mere handful of competitors by the time the final climb was reached.
At that point it was obvious to most viewers that Bernal was feeling good. He took a Chance, passed Go at the double, and kicked it up the Campo Felice to win imperiously. It was hotels all the way for Egan! His mountain Monopoly was beginning to take shape, as his bankrupt rivals gasped for air, but only succeeded in tasting the dust devils kicked up by Bernal’s speeding bike!
Bernal was in pink and rarely has the Maglia Rosa fitted anyone so well!
Staying strong and keeping his rivals at arms length, Bernal continued to dominate, including a magnificent 4th on the mighty Zoncolan where he yet again put time into his major rivals to extend his lead.
Bond Street, Regent Street and Oxford Street fell and Bernal had hotels all the way down the home street! Who was to stop him now?
Then came a curtailed stage 16, cut short by atrocious weather, but still long enough for Bernal to cement his lead, winning once again, putting time into his rivals once again (despite being chased by 2 chainsaw wielding fans with potentially malodorous intent) and cleaning up the back row now.
Piccadilly, Leicester Square and Coventry Street, all shook then fell, as his rivals landed on Income Tax and were left with only the Electric Company as a safe haven, their Waterworks having already blown a gasket!
And into the final week, surely now only a severe case of over investment can stop Bernal from winning a complete Monopoly. Will he keep rolling the doubles or has Egan Bernal run out of cards to play? Has his racing car turned the corner and become old hat?
I’ll let you know early next week.
Thanks for reading.