As Team Sky hold their first get together to prepare for the 2018 season, 20-year-old Egan Bernal will get his first taste of life at the most successful team in the peloton. The Colombian climber is part of a new generation of riders joining Team Sky for 2018 that also includes Russian-born, France-based phenomenon Pavel Sivakov, 2016 under-23 world champion Kristoffer Halvorsen, and British sprinter Chris Lawless.
Bernal stands out from his young peers thanks to his victory in the Tour de l'Avenir while riding for the Colombian national team. He is the sixth Colombian to win the French race that often identifies future Grand Tour contenders, following on from Nairo Quintana, Esteban Chaves and Miguel Angel Lopez.
He also has had two successful seasons with the Androni Giocattoli squad, winning the Sibiu Cycling Tour this season and finishing as best young rider in half a dozen stage races. Bernal also showed his talent in one-day races, taking second at the Giro dell'Appennino, third at the Memorial Marco Pantani and 13th in his first Classic, Il Lombardia. His points in the season-long Ciclismo Cup series in Italy helped secure Androni Giocattoli the team ranking, earning them an automatic wildcard invitation to the 2018 Giro d'Italia.
Bernal accomplished all this before turning 21 on January 13 next year but told La Gazzetta dello Sport that he is not concerned about stepping up to WorldTour level with Team Sky or about comparisons on social media to Quintana.
"Writing on Twitter that Bernal is the next Quintana is easy. Doing it is a whole lot different. But I've faith in my ability and that I can become a good rider," he told Italian journalist Ciro Scognamiglio during an interview.
Bernal's big numbers
Androni Giocattoli team manager Gianni Savio spotted Bernal in South America after noting his results in the junior mountain bike world championship. He is convinced that Bernal can develop into a Grand Tour contender.
"When he was 19 he had a VO2max of 88.8ml/kg. To make a comparison, Froome at 22 was 84.6, and in 2016 was at 88.2," Savio recently told La Gazzetta dello Sport during a visit to Bernal's Italian base near Rivarolo Canavese, north of Turin.
Savio has allowed Bernal to leave Androni Giocattoli a year early and move to Team Sky due to a significant 'development bonus' in his contract.
"I signed Bernal when he was little known and had raced little on the road. We helped him develop gradually last season and this year. I think it's only right that our hard work is financially recognised," Savio told Cyclingnews in the spring.
'Team Sky aren't extraterrestrials'
Team Sky confirmed Bernal's arrival soon after he won back-to-back mountain stages at the Tour de l'Avenir in August.
"With Team Sky providing a successful home for Colombian riders over the years, Bernal will be hoping to continue his rapid development as a next generation GC threat," the team said in a press release.
"My first goal with Team Sky is to learn," Bernal said when his move was announced.
"I want to learn from my teammates and take advantage of the experience that there is in the team. I'm excited to be joining Team Sky and I want to contribute as much as I can."
"I've spoken to the Colombian riders in the team about Team Sky. They're not extraterrestrials, they don't do anything special. Indeed, I've seen how they've helped a rider like Gianni Moscon develop gradually," Bernal told La Gazzetta dello Sport.
"I hope and need to improve in every way. I came to Europe and live a long way from home and that's not easy. It's both a cultural and geographic distance. To handle life in Europe you need lots of determination but I think I have that."
Bernal is from Zipaquira, 50km outside the Colombian capital of Bogota. The town is at an altitude of 2,650 metres, which aided his development as a climber. He initially mixed his studies with mountain bike racing and revealed that he wanted to be a journalist before focusing fully on cycling.
"People think I perhaps wanted to write about sport but in truth, I wanted to write about politics," he explained.
"I believe a journalist has a key function in society. They've got to tell the truth about what is right and what is wrong and open people's eyes."