Ineos Grenadiers leader Egan Bernal has confirmed that winning the Vuelta a España has now become the biggest goal of his career, as he aims to join a highly elite club of riders who have won all three Grand Tours.
Only six riders, the most recent being Chris Froome, have won the Giro d’Italia, Tour de France and Vuelta a Espana. Having triumphed in the 2019 Tour de France and Giro d’Italia this spring, Bernal hopes to become the seventh rider in the Grand Tour record book.
Before the Giro d’Italia, his first race since the disastrous, back-injury wrecked 2020 Tour de France, Bernal talked about “regaining the sparkle and confidence” of previous years. Three weeks later he was celebrating in the maglia rosa in Milan. Next on the list is seeing whether he can win all three Grand Tours as well as become the first rider since Alberto Contador in 2008 to win the Giro d’Italia and the Vuelta a Espana in the same year.
Bernal caught COVID-19 at the end of the Giro d’Italia and so has not had ideal preparation for the Vuelta but he insisted he felt good.
“For me winning all three would be like a dream,” Bernal said. “For sure it’s my biggest goal of my career now.”
“But it’s the first time I’ve taken part in two Grand Tours in one year, so I don’t know how my body will react. I’m feeling good, but I don’t want to put too much pressure on myself. I want to do this race and whatever happens, happens. For sure if there is an opportunity, I will try and win it.”
Bernal returned to Europe after spending June and much of July training at home in Colombia. He rode the Clasica San Sebastian and then the Vuelta a Burgos, where his condition was solid but by no means spectacular,
He confirmed that the long-term effects of his back injury “will be with me for some time to come” but insisted his form is improving.
“It’s something I’ll have to put up with some more months, the important thing is I can keep going for a while yet. I rested up after the Giro, I had COVID-19, so I had to stop for some weeks and then get back into it little by little. It’s not been the ideal preparation, but I hope to be in good shape.”
The 24-year-old Colombian admitted that a team leadership hierarchy had not yet been established within Ineos Grenadiers for the Vuelta.
Adam Yates and Richard Carapaz, who was second overall last year, also have recognised GC aspirations this autumn. Like at the Tour de France, Ineos Grenadiers have three strong leaders but perhaps not the strongest rider in the race.
In the early stages of the Vuelta, Bernal, Adam Yates and Richard Carapaz will all be protected riders and all three will be vying for victory.Bernal said that communication would be critical for ensuring the team’s greatest level of success possible.
“Yates has been preparing for this race for a long time, and wants to do it well. Richard was third in the Tour and is at a good level, me too. I hope I can do this well,” Bernal explained.
“It’s not so easy to decide who the leader is. But we’ve got a good team, so it’s important to be very honest.”
Bernal recognised that given Roglic’s status as defending Olympic time trial champion he would be at a disadvantage in the Vuelta’s two time trials that bookend the race.
“People like me will lose time in both,” he said.
As for the best way to beat Roglic, Bernal was equally down-beat, rather than displaying a strategy even before the mountain stages had begun.
"I don’t know which tactic is the best. First you need to have the legs, rather than saying ‘okay, you can attack’ and then another and then another. We have to stay calm and wait for our opportunity.”
Bernal was adamant that rather than reduce the Vuelta to a simple duel between himself and Roglic, other riders would be a factor. He also pointedly refused to name a top favourite when asked by a Colombian journalist to do so.
“I really don’t know who that could be,” he said.
“It’s late in the season, we’re expecting some real heat and it could be windy. A lot of things could happen and for sure for the spectators it’ll be a very emotional race to see.”
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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