The speed of Egan Bernal’s recovery from his life-threatening crash has exceeded all expectations, but Ineos Grenadiers deputy team manager Rod Ellingworth has said that there are “no plans” for the Colombian to return to competition as yet.
Dr. Gustavo Uriza, who oversaw treatment of Bernal’s injuries, told a medical conference in Colombia this week that he believed the rider could make a rapid return to full training and competition, prompting speculation that he might even pin on a race number as early as next month.
Speaking to Cyclingnews on Friday, Ellingworth explained that such a hypothesis was premature in the extreme. While the progress of Bernal’s recovery has been heartening, his Ineos team has not discussed a timeline for a return to racing. He will travel to Europe this week to train, but his focus remains on rehabilitation rather than on competition for the foreseeable future.
“I think everyone has been speculating about when he is going to race again, but just to be really clear, there are no plans at this moment in time,” Ellingworth told Cyclingnews.
“We’ve said all along, really, that you’ve just got to take it day by day. When somebody’s had a horrific accident like that, first of all there’s that initial shock for him and his family. Then after that, it’s about getting over the key operations.”
Bernal suffered fractured vertebrae, a fractured right femur, a fractured right patella, chest trauma, a punctured lung and several fractured ribs in the 60kph training crash near Bogota on January 24. He spent almost two weeks in the intensive care unit and he later revealed that he had risked losing his life or being left paralysed in the incident.
Remarkably, Bernal was back on the bike barely two months later and his coach Xabier Artexte later suggested that a return to competition later in 2022 was not beyond the realms of possibility. Despite the reports emanating from Colombia this week, however, an immediate return is not in prospect.
“Egan's absolutely made a faster recovery than anybody could have predicted, and I would say a lot of that comes down to him and that burning desire to come back,” Ellingworth said. “So he is coming back. But there's no expectation and there are absolutely no plans yet to get racing. It’s way too early to predict when he might come back. There’s just no point in even putting a date out there.”
Even so, Bernal’s return to Europe does appear to signal a new phase in his recovery. He will be based in Monaco, in closer proximity to his Ineos squad’s headquarters, as he continues to work towards his eventual return to the peloton.
“His idea is that he just wants to feel a bit closer to the team. He wants to get involved in some group activity, because he’ll be down in Monaco and we’ve got staff down there,” said Ellingworth.
“We've had a good relationship with the medical group out there in Colombia, and our medical team have been amazing. Everything that he's done has been done jointly with the team. But now for him, I think it's about coming back into the team environment. He’ll feel like he’s closer and a bit more part of it.
“He’ll be out on the bike with that guys and that will spur him on. But it’s not like he’s just coming back from a broken collarbone. There are more complexities here, and that’s why he won’t race until he’s ready.”
Ellingworth is aware, of course, that Bernal’s preferred timeline for a return to competition might not tally entirely with the schedule envisaged by his team and medical staff. The 2019 Tour de France winner has made little secret of his eagerness to pick up where he left off, but Ineos have an eye to the long term given that Bernal is under contract until the end of 2026.
“Most guys in that situation, they want to move faster than they possibly need to. So you’ve got to work with them and make sure there are no shortcuts, because if you miss some key part of the rehab work, it could come back to bite you,” Ellingworth said.
“You do have to make sure they’re doing that sort of work and that’s part of why we wanted to bring him back to Europe as well, just to have more assessments and see where he is. But with Egan, as with most of our riders, you actually have to hold them back a bit and put the brakes on.
“Then again, when we’re recruiting riders, we often look for that element in them, that sense that they know they need holding back sometimes. I often said it about Geraint Thomas – if you want him to do five hours of training, then ask him to do four.”
In the aftermath of Bernal’s crash, Ineos resisted the temptation to reshape their squads for the Grand Tours to compensate for his absence in July. Richard Carapaz, as was already decided last winter, will lead a strong line-up at the Giro d’Italia, while Adam Yates and Daniel Martínez are building towards the Tour.
“The Giro was always Richard’s plan and we never diverted from that. We didn’t even have the conversation about him doing the Tour instead,” Ellingworth said. “We haven’t changed plans at all. It was a massive blow losing Egan, but we’re still fortunate because we’ve got some pretty talented bike riders.”
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