Egan Bernal (Team Sky) has reached the end of a season in which he has experienced both spectacular success and brutal injuries. But the Colombian says he is not going to dwell too much on 2018, choosing instead to focus on his future in professional cycling.
"If I sat back and thought about it all, maybe I would relax too much. Rather, I want to be looking ahead and seeing what I can do next," Bernal told Cyclingnews earlier this week.
In the Spanish Classic, Bernal went down in a pile-up during the closing kilometres. At the hospital, doctors concluded that he'd suffered facial trauma, including several broken teeth, a nasal fracture and a small bleed on the brain.
Two months later, and he is back to racing after a quick recovery. On the administrative side, Team Sky confirmed on Friday that Bernal would be remaining with the team for a further five years, resolving his short- and mid-term future. The unusually lengthy contract has also indirectly confirmed Sky's presence in the peloton until the end of 2023.
At Saturday's Giro dell'Emilia, Bernal was in the thick of the action on the closing lap, as the chasing group tried to reel in solo breakaway rider Alessandro De Marchi (BMC Racing Team) on the tough final ascent of San Luca. Bernal then finished 82nd in the GP Bruno Beghelli on Sunday, and will finish off his season with rides at Milano-Torino on Wednesday, the Giro del Piamonte on Thursday, and Il Lombardia on Saturday. But it would be unfair to expect too much of him during the Italian Classics after so much time off.
Bernal has never ridden Piemonte, while he took a very promising 16th place last year at Milano-Torino, and then 13th at Il Lombardia – debut rides in both cases – so there are grounds for optimism, at the very least.
Bernal said that he knows the areas where the races take place very well from the time when he lived in Italy, but that on his return to racing this autumn, he said, "I really don't know what to expect here.
"I had trained well. I focused on reaching these races in good shape. But after two months away from racing, and after a lot of surgery following the crash I had, I didn't know if I was going to be in good enough form to stay with the peloton, and even more so in a race like Emilia. It is a complicated race and has a very explosive finale.
"I didn't have any great expectations for Emilia. I just knew that if I was able to finish the race well, then that would be great, but also that if I didn't, then, given what I was coming back from, it wouldn't be the end of the world. After two months off the bike, I certainly wasn't expecting to come back and win."
He said that at the GP Beghelli he was just aiming to find his racing rhythm because it isn't a race that usually works out for climbers.
"My idea was to quit at some point. But in the last laps I got in a break, and then I was up there in the last kilometres, so I finished it, but racing calmly – not going all out."
Egan Bernal atop the final podium at the 2018 Amgen Tour of California (Getty Images)
A breakthrough season
His crash at the Clásica San Sebastián was the second abrupt halt in what had been an otherwise stellar year for the Colombian. In March, he crashed on the last stage of the Volta a Catalunya and ended up in hospital with a broken collarbone and scapular fractures.
He's had multiple breakthroughs this season, starting with the best young rider classification at the Santos Tour Down Under, and continuing with victory at the Oro y Paz and the Colombian TT Nationals. At Catalunya he was in second place overall before the crash, and then took a stage win and finished second overall at the Tour de Romandie before taking the overall win and two stage victories at the Amgen Tour of California in May.
Heading to the Tour de France for the first time, Bernal provided key mountain support for Team Sky in both the Alps and Pyrenees, despite being the race's youngest rider and the youngest Sky had ever fielded, too.
Bernal says that he has nearly healed from his crash at Clásica San Sebastián, but that he has not yet completed all the surgery required for a full recovery.
"Some of the teeth I have now are temporary replacements, and I have to wait until November when I go back to Colombia to get them changed definitively," he said. "But the good news is that my mouth isn't hurting anymore and my head feels fine, so that's a good sign."
Bernal is also pleased to be back on a bike, racing and able to go into the off-season with some final events under his belt, rather than – as he feared – closing out the season after his crash in San Sebastián.
"When I realised after my fall how bad the injuries were, I thought my year was over," he said. "But then I recovered quickly, the scars healed up fast, I never had an infection, and it all went better than we had hoped. A month afterwards, I was back on the bike, and training.
"My condition was really poor, but the goal of finishing the year by taking part in a race was once again possible, and that was a big motivation. It's not the same training without a particular goal as when you've got something specific to aim at."
With his condition rapidly improving, Bernal and his team decided that the Italian Classics would be a good target.
"It was a way of finishing the year on the bike, in the peloton, and as a way of overcoming any nervousness I might feel about racing after the crash, instead of just ending the year with an accident.
"After Lombardia, in any case, it will be time for a rest – a proper rest – rather than when I've had time off the bike this year, which in a lot of cases has been because of injuries and recovering from them. It's going to be very important for me psychologically, too."
Bernal has a new contract with Team Sky that will take him through 2023 (Getty Images)
Starting the 2019 season in Colombia
Bernal is considering starting his 2019 season at the Oro y Paz stage race in Colombia in January, but his plans are not set in stone. One certainty is that Bernal will be starting his season in Team Sky colours, having signed the new five-year contract.
"It's very good for me to have that [contract] because it makes me calmer, and I'm the kind of rider who’s going to perform better with that all sorted out, rather than if I was worried about the next year," Bernal said. "Signing for five years isn't normal, but it's both a sign of the team's faith in me and my faith in the team."
A five-year contract, combined with such an enforced spell of rest, sounds like the perfect combination for Bernal both to reflect on what he's achieved this year and on what's to come in the future. He told Cyclingnews he's doing more of the latter.
"It's been a very good year for me, and I never expected so much. I came from Androni, a good team, and had good results there, but you can't compare that with what I've done this year.
"That's in the past. I don't like thinking too hard about what I've done, winning a stage here or there or whatever, because then I'd just be thinking about that.
"I'm aware of what I've done; I'm looking towards the future. If I start thinking about what a good season I've had, I run the risk of relaxing too much. I don't want to avoid thinking about what I haven't done yet or about how I always want to do a little bit more, achieve some more. There's so much more I still want to do."
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Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.
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