He arrived on the Grande Boucle on tiptoe. Because he can well display a record of double winner of the Grand Tours, of France in 2019 and of Italy in 2021, Egan Bernal no longer subscribes to any certainty. Since that cursed day in January 2022, when, in training about thirty kilometers from Bogota, his destiny as a champion shattered on a stationary bus, he takes things as they present themselves, barely looking for to provoke them, to soften them if possible.
The Colombian from the Ineos-Grenadiers team does not say that his presence on the roads of France this summer is a miracle. He is driven by a faith far too strong to use such a word all the time. But the one who was received by Pope Francis a few weeks after his success on the Giro in 2021 still dares: “God gave me a second chance. »
A long and painful journey
They were not numerous to promise him after the three operations necessary to reduce the multiple fractures (eleven ribs, two vertebrae, the femur, the patella, the thumb…) due to the accident. Some doctors saw him in a pinch on an exercise bike, and again. After a fortnight in the clinic, the horizon indeed seemed very dark for the emaciated runner, without any muscle left and “his right leg as stiff as a stick”. But he applied himself to the most intense rehabilitation, his whole team in support and the family also to put him back in the saddle.
It was long and painful, sometimes to the point of wanting to give up cycling for good. “One day, with all my family, we wondered if I continued or if it was better for me to retire to really move on, he told the Colombian weekly Semana recently. But I decided to hang on and dedicate myself to competition. »
He thus manages to find her in August 2022, on the Tour of Denmark, however quickly abandoned after a minor fall. The end of the year offers no solution but patience. And the comfort of the family, which is not spared. Her mother is battling breast cancer. “She has always inspired me,” he confided. She represents strength. It was not easy for her to see a child in this state at the same time as losing a breast and undergoing chemotherapy. »
After a new nose operation to facilitate his breathing, Egan Bernal begins his 2023 season with his fingers crossed. Fate still persists with a fall which injures his knee and deprives him of Paris-Nice in March. But he finally found some sensations on the Tour of Hungary in mid-May, even if he fell again. “God reserves the fiercest battles for his best warriors. Never stop fighting,” he posted on his Instagram account.
“I don’t know if I will be on arrival in Paris”
Paid determination. His result on the Critérium du Dauphiné (12th) at the beginning of June offers him a selection in extremis for the Tour de France. “To be honest, he said before the start, I haven’t prepared 100% for this race. I haven’t done a three week competition in a very long time. The goal is not to lose too much time the first few days, and then I’ll see if the legs respond or not, but I don’t know if I’ll be there at the finish in Paris. »
The least we can say is that the first part of the mission is accomplished. On the difficult and tricky first stage, the Colombian finished in the second group on the line in Bilbao, giving up only 33 seconds to the best. The next day, he was in the 24 leaders of the day, showing no delay when others like Julian Alaphilippe, the French champion Valentin Madouas or Thibaut Pinot dropped more than two minutes. Not to mention Mathieu van der Poel, relegated that day to more than fourteen minutes.
Things will get tough on Wednesday July 5 with the attack in the Pyrenees with the passes of Soudet (1,540 m) and Marie-Blanque, before arriving in Laruns. “For Egan, being on the Tour is an achievement, commented his English teammate Tom Pidcock a week ago. Somehow, the way things are going to unfold is not the most important. Egan Bernal puts it another way: “I’m just a human being who rides a bike, what matters to me above all now is to be happy. Happiness may not be far away.
Pogacar, in memory of 2020?
After two flat stages chained to a train of senator, will they have ants in the legs at the beginning of the Pyrenees, the strong men of the peloton? Perhaps we should not count on the Jumbo-Visma to blow up the race on Wednesday July 5, Jonas Vingegaard’s team seems to have decided not to hasten the expected duel with Tadej Pogacar.
The Slovenian, for his part, will he plant some banderillas of which he has the secret in memory of his first stage success in 2020, the year of his first coronation on a very similar route? “It remains one of the most beautiful moments of my career”, assures the double winner of the Tour. He then made his class speak to win in a group of five, including Primoz Roglic. He seized the yellow jersey for the occasion that Pogacar was going to steal from him on the eve of the arrival in Paris. In this club of five also that year, Egan Bernal, who was going to give up a few days later.