Egan Bernal: I still feel like a winner and I really want to win

Ineos Grenadiers rider continues his comeback with back-to-back Grand Tours as he hopes to one day compete with Jumbo-Visma's dominance

Clock19:30, Monday 18th September 2023
Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers) at the Vuelta a España

© Velo Collection (TDW) / Getty Images

Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers) at the Vuelta a España

Before Tadej Pogačar, before Jumbo-Visma’s dreadnought and before Remco Evenepoel burst through as a Grand Tour contender there was Egan Bernal.

Back in 2019 the Colombian was surfing on the crest of a wave, tipped by many as a likely candidate to win multiple Tour de France titles after taking his maiden win. Yet time can be cruel and after injuries, a life-threatening crash, and a long and arduous comeback the Colombian is still fighting to reach his former level.

Now 26, the Ineos Grenadiers rider has completed back-to-back Grand Tours for the first time in his career with a Tour de France and a Vuelta a España in his back pocket.

While results have been thin on the ground this year the main hope is that the huge workload Bernal has shouldered, and the countless kilometres he has raced, will encourage his body back to where it once was. And the level Bernal reached between 2018 and 2019 was truly exceptional. Memories fade with time but Bernal at his best was something else - an almost unstoppable force that climbed with class and could blow races apart with his uphill accelerations.

Speaking to GCN at the Vuelta a España the former Tour winner explained that he had seen improvements in his health and form over the year, even if his results had still been lacking.

“The Vuelta has been okay and I’ve had better feelings than I had when compared to the Tour de France. I’m feeling stronger overall and it’s a bit of everything both mentally and physically. I trained really well during the winter and then just had really bad luck when I had to stop in the middle of the season because of bad luck. That wasn’t the best and then I just did my best to arrive in my best shape possible for both the Tour and the Vuelta,” he told GCN.

“Doing two Grand Tours was about giving me the kilometres and the base in my legs. It’s been a big block for me, and I’ve not done this many days of competition in a single season in my life. I’ve been racing WorldTour races since Catalunya. It’s not about thinking of getting a result this season but about aiming for next year.”

High hopes for progress in 2024

It’s unlikely Bernal or his team will know his 2024 race programme until the off-season is underway. All three Grand Tours will be announced from October onwards and Bernal is not the only Ineos rider who will want to have his say on objectives.

What’s certain, however, is that Bernal expects to be competing for top-placings and victories.

“Next year I want to see more from the results. For sure it’s a process and I’m not sure where I’ll arrive but I’d expect more from myself. I still feel like a winner, and I really want to win. I see myself with the best and that’s what I’m working for,” he told GCN.

The Vuelta itself was a relatively quiet affair for the Colombian. He had no GC candidate to support like he did at the Tour de France, although he did make it into the break on stage 18 before finishing the day in seventh place. A spot just outside the top 50 overall can be seen in several lights but Bernal humility meant that he could accept riding in the gruppetto when he wasn’t able to follow the leaders.

“I was prepared mentally for that, even in the Tour," he said.

"I knew that I wouldn’t be able to even follow. Cycling has such a high level that even if you're 100 percent it’s so hard to stay there. With not ideal preparation and what happened to me in the past I knew from the beginning that I would be dropped in the Tour so when it happened I just thought about surviving.”

Even being dropped must feel like a triumph of sorts, given where Bernal found himself physically after his major crash in January of 2022.

“I don’t think that everyday when I’m in the grupetto but when you finish the race, when I finished the Tour this year, I was feeling it in a different way but I was happier than when I won. So when someone reminds me where I’ve come from I’m just really proud of myself,” he added.

Expectations have been tempered with regards to Bernal’s comeback but cycling fans would relish the chance to see the Bernal of old take on the new trendsetters of Grand Tour racing in Jumbo-Visma. Now that really would create some special memories.

“I would really like that,” he said with a smile.

“I would like to be in my best shape, because I like to race aggressively. When you see these guys be so dominant, I would like to be there and do something.”

The Vuelta a España may be over, but there's still plenty of time to catch up on any racing you might have missed, with on-demand coverage and highlights available on GCN+. As for news, standings and race reports, make sure to check out our Vuelta a España landing page.

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