Talented young Colombian Egan Bernal took another major step forward in his career on Wednesday's tough stage 4 of the Volta a Catalunya. The Team Sky man was the only rider able to take on the all-dominating Movistar on the final climb to La Molina. Bernal finished second to Alejandro Valverde and moved up to second overall, 19 seconds behind.
"I've done very well here, this is a big step, a WorldTour race and I'm here, fighting for the overall," Bernal said. "It's gone way better than I could have expected this year, and I'm very happy with my condition.
"I'm pleased for myself, but really pleased for the team, too, and the confidence they've shown in me."
On the long, steady final climb Bernal bridged across to early attacker Marc Soler (Movistar) in the wake of Nairo Quintana and Alejandro Valverde. The 21-year-old then showed he could handle Soler's unrelenting pace at the front of the shattering lead group and stayed in contention even as Valverde, Soler, Quintana and Pierre LaTour (AG2R La Mondiale) went up the road.
Bernal's impressive accelerations then succeeded in squeezing both Paris-Nice winner Soler and LaTour out of the leading break. But with Quintana proving more than able to set down a strong pace and Valverde able to mark the young Colombian behind, Bernal's options were very limited.
After placing second to Valverde, Bernal's first comments to reporters showed that he was aware his result in the Volta's toughest stage was a big achievement.
Asked if he was satisfied with his performance, Bernal responded, "I'm fine with that. It was very difficult to beat Valverde, I couldn't be chasing down him and Nairo all the time, so this was pretty much as good as it could get."
Currently second overall, and likely to stay in that position all the way to Barcelona on Sunday, Bernal seemed aware that he is on track for the biggest result of his career so far. He has already had a successful early season winning Colombia's newest stage race, the Oro Y Paz, and taking the national time trial title.
Asked if he could win the race outright, Bernal preferred to be realistic about his options in a race where the final Pyrenean stage on Friday offers limited chances for attacking - the major climbs are a long way from the finish - and the closing weekend could well be won by breakaways.
"It's never over til the final finish line, but Movistar have a very good team," Bernal pointed out. "Valverde's just beaten me and taken time on me as well. I'm pleased with what I've achieved, and whatever happens, getting on the podium here would be a fantastic result."
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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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