Bernal set to make Tour de France debut after California victory

After a hugely successful spring, Egan Bernal is set to make his Grand Tour debut at the Tour de France this year, Cyclingnews understands.

The hugely talented 21-year-old Colombian joined Team Sky for the start of the 2018 season from Androni Giocattoli and has produced a string of superb performances, fast tracking his WorldTour career.

He won the Colombia Oro y Paz in February and last week claimed his first WorldTour stage race victory at the Tour of California. In between, he won a stage and finished second overall at the Tour de Romandie, and was second overall at the Volta a Catalunya before crashing out on the final day. 

At the start of the season, it was thought Bernal would make his Grand Tour debut in his first year with Team Sky but that the opportunity was expected to come at the Vuelta a España later in the season. "I don’t think it will be the Giro, and for sure it won’t be the Tour de France, but I'd like to try the Vuelta," Bernal himself had said in January. 

However, Cyclingnews understands that Bernal's start to the season, and especially his performances at Romandie and California, have caused a major re-think and he is now in line to ride the Tour de France. He is expected to miss the Critérium du Dauphiné and instead prepare for the Tour de France.  

Chris Froome is, in theory, set to lead Team Sky in July if his salbutamol case does not reach a verdict before the start on July 7, while Geraint Thomas is also targeting the Tour de France. Bernal would in theory be a key teammate in the mountains and so escape the spotlight of expectation that his results are rapidly commanding. 

"If he went to the Vuelta he’d have more pressure than at the Tour, because many eyes would be on him and he'd have leadership responsibilities," Bernal's agent Giuseppe Acquadro told Spanish newspaper Marca on Tuesday.

"Going to the Tour in the shadow of Chris Froome, he will be able to race more relaxed, ride his own race, work and learn. If he finds himself up there, great, but he'll have no pressure." 

At 21 and in his first season at WorldTour level, Bernal still needs to be carefully nurtured but he already has two full professional seasons under his belt before arriving at Team Sky, having started his European career with Androni Gioccatoli in Italy. In 2017 he raced for 68 days between the Veuelta a San Juan and Il Lombardia. He rode 11 stage races of various lengths and dominated the Tour de l'Avenir race while riding with the Colombian national team.  

Bernal signed a four-year deal with Androni Giocattoli in 2016 but Team Sky bought him out of his contract for 2018, paying Androni Giocattoli team manager Gianni Savio a so-called 'development bonus'. Cyclingnews understands the fee was around €350,000.


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