Bernal’s crash happened when he fell during a training ride the Saturday before the Giro d’Italia, Ineos team coach Xabi Artetxe told Cyclingnews. But the 2019 Paris-Nice winner was in such good underlying shape that after nearly a week without touching the bike, he is back training.
In fact, Artexte confimed, Bernal’s underlying condition is so good he has established a new Strava record for the ascent of the Col de Gallina, the last climb used in the 2018 Vuelta a España and reputed to one of the hardest in Andorra. Bernal shaved 56 seconds off teammate David de la Cruz's previous record.
This Thursday, whilst the 2019 Giro riders were tackling the second longest stage of the race, Bernal was on a plane to Colombia, to continue his recovery back home. Although the Tour de France is not definitely in his plans yet, it is looming large on the horizon as a possibility.
"He’s recovering fast, the operation went very well, we were lucky in the sense that he had the crash on Saturday and on the Sunday he had already had the operation," Artetxe told Cyclingnews on Thursday. "It wasn’t that clean a break, because his collarbone was broken in four places, but it's all gone very well, from the operation through to the recovery procedure and the physiotherapy."
Bernal fell at the foot of the descent of the Envalira pass, coming down off Andorra’s longest climb on his second-last training session before heading for the Giro.
"To tell you the truth, it was a big blow for everybody, but he was more disappointed for his teammates, all the work they had done for him, than he was for himself," Artetxe said. "We’d been in Colombia and then in Andorra preparing for the Giro. After I got to where he was after the crash, he told me, ‘I know I’ve broken my collarbone.’
"But as soon as he was out of the operating room on the Sunday, he wasn’t thinking about the Giro any more, he was thinking about the next race he could do."
Bernal appears to have come around from his injury very fast, but as Artetxe sees it, this is not so surprising.
"He’s amazing on the bike, but it’s like he’s so good, he’s also able to recover at a speed that defies the norm. We already saw that was the case with Egan when he fell [and was injured] in the Volta a Catalunya, then again in San Sebastián, last year, but he could come back very fast. His motivation to get back into racing is important too.
"In any case, although he was off the bike for practically a week, his condition for the Giro was very good. So as soon as he got back into training, the underlying condition was still there. You don’t lose it all in a week."
Bernal’s recovery has been so fast that he has even, post-crash, clocked the fastest time on Strava for the Col de la Gallina in Andorra on one of his training riders, although Artetxe qualifies that ‘record’ by pointing out that, "this isn’t the ‘definitive’ record, it’s just amongst those who bother to record their times on Internet. It wasn’t in a race."
What is more interesting in terms of competitive racing rather than Strava records is when Bernal will return to the peloton and if - as has been widely speculated - he will do the Tour de France as part of Ineos line-up for the Grand Tour. There is also the possibility that Bernal could go on to do the Vuelta a España, as was thought to be likely last season before his crash in San Sebastian.
"Well, he’d like to do the Tour, we saw last year that he was a key rider therer. It’s all possible, but nothing is certain," Artetxe reflected, without confirming he would definitely be in cycling’s biggest race.
"But first let’s see if he’s recovered completely. Then if he does the Tour, and comes through it well, then we could see how he would be for the Vuelta. But with these young riders, there’s no question of burning them out. There’s still plenty of time for us to make those decisions."