Egan Bernal's assured victory at the Tour de Suisse has marked him out among the favourites for next month's Tour de France but the Colombian has said that he is prepared to ride in the service of defending champion Geraint Thomas if the Welshman proves stronger than him.
"I don't know. I don't choose to say that I'm the favourite. In any case, I will go with G [Thomas] – he will be our leader," Bernal said in a flash interview after sealing overall victory at the Tour de Suisse on Sunday. "I will try to help him. If he's better than me, for sure I will help him. I don't have any problems to help him; I'm just 22 years old so I think that I have a lot of Tours in front of me."
Team Ineos will be without four-time Tour winner Chris Froome in July after he sustained a broken femur in a training crash on last week's Critérium du Dauphiné, while Thomas' own Tour preparation suffered a setback when he was forced to abandon the Tour de Suisse after crash in the finale of stage 4.
Bernal, who placed 15th overall on his Tour debut in 2018, was initially slated to lead Ineos at the Giro d'Italia, but he was ruled out of the corsa rosa after breaking his collarbone in a training crash of his own a week before the race.
The Colombian showed few lingering effects of that setback at the Tour de Suisse, where he stepped seamlessly into the role of team leader following Thomas' abandon. He moved into the yellow jersey on stage 6 to Flumserberg, won the following day at San Gottardo and then defended his lead in Saturday's individual time trial.
"I think that things changed when Thomas crashed because he was our leader when we came here," Bernal said on Sunday. "So after his crash I became the leader and it changed a lot for me."
On Sunday's final stage, Bernal tracked the attack of his closest rival Rohan Dennis (Bahrain-Merida) on the final climb of the Furkapass. They reached the finish together 1:03 down on stage winner Hugh Carthy (EF Education First), which sufficed to hand Bernal overall victory, 19 seconds clear of Dennis.
"I had a lot of respect for the race and my rivals but today I felt good, it was one of my best days. I recovered very well from yesterday and everything was under control," Bernal said.
"It is one of the biggest races that I have won so I'm really happy. It gives me a lot of confidence for the next races. I'm really happy because just before the race I had a big crash and couldn't go to the Giro d'Italia so to come here and win is really nice for me and for the team."
Already winner of Paris-Nice in March, Bernal has enjoyed a fine 2019 campaign to date. "I think I have to be more than happy with what I've done so far this year. I've won three WorldTour races," Bernal told Cycling Pro, though he was reluctant to entertain the idea that he might be above Thomas in the hierarchy. "Geraint Thomas is the defending champion of the Tour de France. I respect him a lot, and he's in very good form as well."
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