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Egan Bernal admits Giro d’Italia ambitions depend on possible back pain

Team Ineos rider Colombias Egan Bernal rides during the 15th stage of the 107th edition of the Tour de France cycling race 175 km between Lyon and Grand Colombier on September 13 2020 Photo by KENZO TRIBOUILLARD AFP Photo by KENZO TRIBOUILLARDAFP via Getty Images
Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers) (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

Egan Bernal has confirmed he will target the maglia rosa at the Giro d’Italia but he has admitted that “everything will depend on how my back responds” and revealed he still occasionally feels pain due to a leg length discrepancy and chronic scoliosis in his spine.

Ineos Grenadiers announced Bernal and Pavel Sivakov as equal team leaders when they finalised their eight-rider squad on Tuesday, with Bernal telling La Gazzetta dello Sport that the team is “optimistic that things will go well.” 

Bernal will wear race number one after Tao Geoghagan Hart’s victory in 2020 but make his debut in the Corsa Rosa. His youthful enthusiasm seems equal to any doubts about his back flaring up as it did in 2020, forcing him to abandon the Tour de France.    

“I’m excited to get racing.  It’s my first Giro and so I’m super, super emotional. I can't wait,” Bernal told La Gazzetta dello Sport.

“I think my (back) situation is improving. After Tirreno-Adriatico I was able to train well at altitude in Colombia and did a good block of work. In the last few days, I’ve been working on my intensity and I hope to be in good shape right from the start of the Giro.”

“I still feel something in my back some days but things have improved lately and are getting better with lesser training loads. I hope everything is okay and that it holds up for all the Giro.” 

However Bernal admits that a return of the pain could limit his ambitions. 

“Everything will depend on how my back responds. If everything will be okay then I’ll focus on the overall classification and the fight for the maglia rosa in Milan. We’ll see day by day because I haven’t raced for two months. It’s useless to make false promises.”

Bernal will arrive in Turin on Wednesday for the Grande Partenza and the countdown to the opening time trial stage in the city centre on Saturday. 

The Piemonte region was the Colombian’s adopted home when he first turned professional with Androni Giocattoli in 2016. He lived in the mountain village of Courgnè, at the foot of the Alps for two years, sparking his love for the Giro d’Italia. 

His agent Giuseppe Acquadro is from nearby Biella, where stage 3 starts, and Bernal’s only victory in Italy came at the 2019 Gran Piemonte one-day race on the mountain finish at Oropa. 

Sharing a birthday with Marco Pantani, his fluent Italian and friendly nature have made Bernal hugely popular with the Italian tifosi. Victory at the 2019 Tour de France changed his career and lead him to move to Andorra and then Montecarlo but Bernal pushed Ineos to let him ride the Giro d’Italia, with doubts about his back in 2021convincing the team management it was the best strategy, with Geraint Thomas the team’s designated leader for the Tour de France.       

“I can’t deny the importance of the Tour but there are three Grand Tours: the Tour, the Giro and the Vuelta. I wouldn’t want to be a rider who only focuses on the Tour,” Bernal said. 

“Doing something new motivates me and I’m excited by the Giro  and can’t wait to start racing. I’ve wanted to ride the Giro since I turned professional in 2016. I should have ridden in 2019 if I hadn’t been injured before the start (after a crash in training). The opening time trial is not far (an hour by car) from where I lived and I know the area of the opening stages. I think the people will be cheering for me.”

Bernal has not done a lot of reconnaissance of the Giro d’Italia race route but directeur sportif Dario Cioni and Matteo Tosatto have done the homework and Bernal can count on the experience and support of road captain Salvatore Puccio, time trial world champion Filippo Ganna, Gianni Moscon, Jhonatan Narváez, Jonathan Castroviejo and Dani Martinez.

“The team is strong, they’re a guarantee. I’ve got excellent riders alongside and I know we’ll be united,” Bernal said, even though Ganna will have the freedom to target the time trials and Moscon has also talked up his chances of going for specific stages.    

“I like the route, it’s complete and balanced between the time trials and the mountain stages and will create a hard race,” Bernal explained, referring to his own time trial ability and love for aggressive racing.

“Certain stages like the first roads in Tuscany will be very important. The strongest rider will win, with the hard climbs like the Zoncolan and the Queen stage to Cortina making big differences.” 

“There are a lot of overall contenders and I don’t like to name names. I just want to start racing.” 

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