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Egan Bernal opts for French programme before Tour de France defence

Egan Bernal training in Colombia
Egan Bernal training in Colombia (Image credit: Getty Images)

Egan Bernal will return to Europe from Colombia on July 19 and ride the Route de Occitaine, Tour de l'Ain and the Critérium du Dauphiné in August before starting the Tour de France as a leader of Team Ineos on August 29.

The 2019 Tour de France winner has been in Colombia since March when he headed home as the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic sent the world into lockdown. He respected the strict lockdown rules in Colombia, riding indoors for a several weeks before the mayor of his hometown of Zipaquirá gave him and other local professional permission to train outdoors at the end of April.

Since then Bernal has increased his riding, clocking up a number long rides that he has described as 'Apocalipsis'. They have included several rides over seven hours.

Colombia has blocked all commercial flights until the end of August to limit the spread of the COVID-19 virus but Colombian professional riders have secured special permission from the Ministry of Sport and the Colombian Cycling Federation to fly to Europe for the rescheduled season.

According to the latest reports, around 50 riders will take a specially arranged charter flight from Colombia to Madrid on Sunday July 19. The European Union has said that other nations can fly to Europe from July 1. The riders will have to prove they do not have the COVID-19 virus but will not have to respect any quarantine when they arrive in Europe.

Bernal has not raced since the Tour Colombia race in mid-February after Team Ineos decided not to ride Paris-Nice due to risks of COVID-19 and the sudden death of directeur sportif Nicolas Portal.

Several sources have confirmed that Bernal will make an early return to competition, clocking up 12 days of racing before the Tour de France after completing most of his key training at altitude in Colombia. He will initially be based at altitude in Andorra but is due to move to Monaco some time in the year.  

Bernal will start the rescheduled 2020 season at the mountainous La Route d'Occitanie in the southwest of France between August 1-4 and then ride the Tour de l'Ain (August 7-9) in eastern France.  He is likely to stay in the area to recon several key Tour de France stages in the Alps and then ride the Critérium du Dauphiné (August 12-16). Riders will gather in Nice on Wednesday, August 26 before the opening road stage around Nice on August 29.

Team Ineos have yet to confirm the race programmes of Geraint Thomas and Chris Froome but both are likely to also want to ride the Critérium du Dauphiné after completing important blocks of altitude training.

According to Cyclingnews sources, Team Ineos has drawn-up a long list of ten riders for the eight-rider Tour de France squad, with Michał Kwiatkowski, Pavel Sivakov, Dylan Van Baarle, Luke Rowe, Tao Geoghegan Hart, Andrey Amador, Jonathan Castroviejo also on the long-list.

Froome's presence in Team Ineos' Tour de France line-up could depend on his future at the team.

He is out of contract and Team Ineos are still to make him a detailed offer. Cyclingnews revealed in mid-May that Froome was approached over a possible mid-season transfer as he looked to guarantee Tour de France leadership. A decision on his future is expected in the week.

Italian website Tuttobici website suggested that new WorldTour squad Israel Start-Up Nation is ready to offer the Briton a three-year contract and try to sign him mid-season so he can lead the team during their Tour de France debut.

Any move would require the consent of Team Ineos manager Dave Brailsford, and whether he would be willing to let Froome leave ahead of the Tour France and thus become a major rival is unclear.