Egan Bernal's solo victory at Gran Piemonte immediately elevated to him to the role of favourite for Saturday's Il Lombardia, but true to character, he preferred to keep his feet on the ground, play down expectations and keep control of his own destiny.
Winning Il Lombardia, one of the sportif big five monument Classics, crowns the career of most riders. But Bernal (Team Ineos) has already won the Tour de France at just 22 and is considered one of the greatest talents of all time, with successful career ahead of him. He doesn’t 'need' to win anything anymore, not even Il Lombardia. He has the luxury than any victory, even Gran Piemonte, can be special for very personal reasons.
"It's great to win here. I raced a lot in Italy during my two years with Androni Giocattoli but I never actually managed to win in Italy," Bernal explained happily.
"To do it here in Oropa, on the climb where Marco Pantani won, and near where I lived, makes it even more emotional. My friends and people from my fan club are here too, so it’s like I've won my home race."
Bernal was only two years old when Marco Pantani won alone in Oropa during the 1999 Giro d'Italia, chasing and passing all his Giro d'Italia rivals after losing his chain at the foot of the climb. It is still remember as a huge sporting 'impresa' in Italy, despite Pantani being expelled from the Corsa Rosa a few days later due to a high
blood haematocrit level.
Bernal said, also focusing on the 'impresa' part. Like Pantani, he also won alone on the cobbled road below the huge stone sanctuary.
"I've seen the videos of Pantani winning in Oropa," before an Italian journalist passed him a mobile phone for a brief conversation with Pantani's mother Tonina.
"When we passed through the village where he lost his chain and I remembered it all and thought about it during the climb. I think everyone should watch those videos and understand what he did that day."
Bernal has nothing to prove at Il Lombardia even if victory would be yet another confirmation of his huge talents.
His end-of-season Italian race programme and decision to miss the World Championships in Yorkshire were designed to lay the foundations for an even more successful 2020, when he will try to follow up on his Tour de France victory. Any results are a moral-boosting bonus.
He will of course lead Team Ineos on Saturday but it other riders the pressure of expectations of securing victory.
"I'll do as well as I can but whatever the result, I'll be happy with my form and with how it sets me up for next season," he reiterated.
"It's a monument and a big race but I'm not a Classics riders, it's not really up to me to have to win it. Lots of big-name riders have peaked and prepared especially for Il Lombardia. I haven’t really done that. Of course I want to do well but I'm happy to have won here. I spent a lot of energy for sure, but it was worth it all when I could
celebrate winning with my so many Italian friends."
"Will winning Gran Piemonte mean I'll pay for the effort in Lombardia? We'll see on Saturday. It's long and hard race, over 240km long, so it's important to race smart early on and have a lot of endurance because the race will be decided in the finale. I don’t know what will happen in the race, but I'll be happy anyway after this season."
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