The plan at the start of 2018 was for Egan Bernal to make his Grand Tour debut at the Vuelta a Espana, but so quickly has he found his feet at WorldTour that Team Sky have fast tracked the Colombian into their Tour de France team.
Bernal moved into the WorldTour echelons to much fanfare at the start of 2018 after a period of development at Androni. Since then he has improved with every race, before putting in a winning ride at the Tour of California in May. His second place at the Tour de Romandie in April was arguably more impressive given the calibre of rider he put to the sword in the Swiss mountains, but nonetheless his Tour de France spot was secured after his US performance.
His inclusion in Chris Froome's Tour de France squad goes against the grain. Typically, Team Sky select proven and durable riders to patrol the front of the peloton for three weeks, not 21-year-olds with limited experience. They opt for diesels, rather than indulge in sporty little numbers, but in Bernal they clearly see not just a rider for the now but also for the future.
It might be a gamble, introducing a rider with such little WorldTour experience to the Tour rather than the Vuelta or the Giro, but the Colombian was brimming with excitement at the team press conference on Wednesday. While many of his teammates sat bored or answered questions through gritted teeth in relation to Froome's salbutamol case, Bernal appeared happy to be there. There's not much that can dampen the optimism of youth, especially at a rider's first Grand Tour.
"It's great to be here and I can't wait for the start," he told Cyclingnews. "I'm prepared for the new adventure and I hope to be in a good condition. I'm here to help win the Tour and to help Chris in the mountains. I'll be with him as long as I can. I think I can help him, if I feel good.
"I got called up after California. At that race, I was telling the press I would do the Vuelta but after California the team called me and I talked with them and they said that I could go to the Tour if I wanted."
Bernal's primary role at the Tour will be to learn. Froome has enough support in the mountains and on the flat to protect him but Bernal will still be called upon to work at key points in the race. The Colombian is willing to rise to that challenge and appears utterly undaunted by the pressure of protecting a key figure in the race.
"I want to learn a lot. I'm here with guys who have a lot of experience, like Kwiatkowski, Thomas and Froome. I'm proud to be here with them and I hope to learn a lot for the future," he said.
"This is the biggest race in the world, and it's my first big race. I have a lot of respect for Froome. To me he's one of the best in the world and I'm here to learn a lot from him. In my mind, and in this moment, I'm just thinking about helping him. After the race I hope he can say he's proud of my work. Then in the future, if I'm the leader in a big race maybe they can help me."
When asked about the polemic surrounding Froome's now closed case, and the reaction from Monday's news, Bernal shrugged off the topic but not a way that suggested he was being evasive. There's a genuine sense that he doesn't know the particulars, and when the biggest race of your life is about to start who can blame him?
"They're difficult questions, but it's hard for me to understand a lot what they say because my English is so bad. I can understand a bit but it's crazy."
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