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Dani Martínez: Egan Bernal is a champion on and off the bike

LOULE PORTUGAL FEBRUARY 20 LR Remco Evenepoel of Belgium and Team QuickStep Alpha Vinyl yellow leader jersey and Daniel Felipe Martinez Poveda of Colombia and Team INEOS Grenadiers compete in the breakaway during the 48th Volta Ao Algarve 2022 Stage 5 a 173km stage from Lagoa to MalhoLoul 514m VAlgarve2022 on February 20 2022 in Loule Portugal Photo by Luc ClaessenGetty Images
Daniel Martínez (Ineos Grenadiers) races up the Alto do Malhão with Remco Evenepoel (QuickStep-AlphaVinyl) (Image credit: Luc Claessen/Getty Images)

It was the defining image of Egan Bernal's Giro d'Italia victory, and in the hours and days after his life-threatening training crash last month, it was reposted across social media as a sign of solidarity and support.

The photograph showed Bernal, in pink and floundering, lost in a seemingly losing effort. In the foreground was Daniel Martínez, half-turned and with an arm outstretched and fist clenched, exhorting his Ineos Grenadiers leader to stay the course. 

Martínez's cajoling and pace-making at Sega di Ala that afternoon effectively saved Bernal's maglia rosa but, sometimes, even the best gregario is powerless to help his leader.

During the anxious vigil last month for positive news from the Clinica Universidad La Sabana last month, Martínez could only join the multitudes in hoping for the best, posting that already-famous image as he did so.

"Today more than ever I wish him the best, that he recovers soon and returns to give a show like he knows how," Martínez wrote in the accompanying caption.

Bernal spent almost two weeks in an intensive care unit and underwent complex spinal surgery. He later revealed that he had been told he had a 95 percent chance of being left paralysed after suffering injuries that included fractured vertebrae, a fractured right femur, a fractured right patella, chest trauma, a punctured lung and several fractured ribs.

There is no timeline for Bernal's eventual return to competition, but his recovery has so far exceeded the expectations of the medical team overseeing his rehabilitation. Last week, Bernal posted a video of himself riding a recumbent stationary bike with a caption that read, "Never let anyone tell you that you can't do something."

Speaking ahead of the final stage of the Volta ao Algarve, Martínez said, "Egan is a great champion, not just on the bike, but off it too. It's very emotional to see his recovery. It's important that he has this positive attitude, and the main thing is that he recovers well."

Martínez was part of the group of Ineos riders who were at a training camp with Bernal in Colombia at the time of his crash, but, mercifully, he did not endure the trauma of witnessing the accident himself. Some way, somehow, Martínez and his companions, including 2019 Giro winner Richard Carapaz, had to carry on with the business of completing their preparations for the new season.

After winning the Colombian time trial title in Pereira earlier this month, Martínez's first race on European roads came at the Volta ao Algarve, where he placed third overall, 1:21 down on Remco Evenepoel (QuickStep-AlphaVinyl). The 25-year-old was pencilled to ride the Tour de France this year in the service of Bernal, and the race remains on his provisional programme despite his friend's absence.

"The initial plan is for the Tour de France. Without Egan, it's very different and we'll see how it is for the team. But for the moment, we're thinking about the first part of the season in any case," said Martínez, whose next outing will be at Paris-Nice, where he will set out with considerable ambition as part of an Ineos squad that will include Filippo Ganna and Adam Yates.

A positive start to 2022 in Portugal

While Evenepoel proved unassailable in Portugal thanks to his strikingly dominant display in the stage 4 time trial to Tavira, Martínez showcased his consistency across the five days of racing, where he was Ineos' designated leader, despite the presence of Geraint Thomas, Tom Pidcock and Ethan Hayter.

He placed fifth in the first summit finish at the Alto da Fóia and then finished a solid seventh in the time trial. Although Martínez shipped 1:30 to a rampant Evenepoel, he limited his losses on European time trial champion Stefan Küng to a second per kilometre in the 32.2-kilometre test.

"It was a long time trial, not easy and very technical, so I think I did well," Martínez told reporters. "For the first trace of the year, I think the sensations are good. I'm here preparing for races to come."

On Sunday's final stage, Martínez made a tilt at discommoding Evenepoel by attacking on the first of two ascents of the Alto do Malhão. That offensive helped to shatter the yellow jersey group, even if Evenepoel himself remained unmoved.

On the final time up, Martínez turned his attention to seeking stage victory, but he was edged out in the sprint by his fellow countryman and former teammate Sergio Higuita (Bora-Hansgrohe).

"First we wanted to try to attack Remco from distance, and then in the finale we went to sprint for the stage. I came close with Higuita but I'm still happy with the performance," Martínez told reporters on the finish line.

"In the final kilometre, we knew it would come down to a sprint. I came past [Brandon] McNulty, but I went from a long way out and I wasn't able to hold off Higuita in the end."

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Barry Ryan

Barry Ryan is European Editor at Cyclingnews. He has covered professional cycling since 2010, reporting from the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and events from Argentina to Japan. His writing has appeared in The Independent, Procycling and Cycling Plus. He is the author of The Ascent: Sean Kelly, Stephen Roche and the Rise of Irish Cycling’s Golden Generation (opens in new tab), published by Gill Books.