The defending champion of the Tour de France, Egan Bernal, will be the leader of the Ineos Grenadier team when the 2020 race starts on 29 August. Here’s a flashback to an interview done when the Colombian did his first race with the British team in January 2018.
For months there has been speculation about which of the three former Tour de France champions on the Ineos roster would earn leadership status. With Egan Bernal in fine form during some lead-up races, it seemed logical that the 23-year-old Colombian would be high up on the pecking order.
But there has still been plenty of commentary about the prospects of the teams other former Tour winners, Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas.
“Whoever the leader is,” says Bernal in the 2020 edition of the Official Tour de France Guide, “our goal will always be the same: to win.
“I’m absolutely convinced that we’ll help each other in order to ensure that the rider with the best level of fitness finishes on the highest stop of the podium in Paris. The road,” Bernal concludes in the pre-race interview conducted several months ago, “will deliver its verdict and theteam will work for the strongest.”
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As it turns out, the road will not decide who the leader will be, rather it’s team management that made the call.
“Egan will once again target the yellow jersey in France and we are very excited to give last year’s Giro winner, Richard Carapaz, his debut in this year’s Tour also,” explained Dave Brailsford in the Team Ineos announcement issued overnight.
“Geraint will target the Giro and take on the opportunity to double up his Tour de France win with another Grand Tour title, with the aim of being the first Welshman to win it.
“In turn,” concludes Brailsford about the trio of Tour champions, “Chris Froome will target the Vuelta.”
And so, the team that has dominated the Tour de France in recent years returns with the defending champion but not the winners from 2013, 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018.
The eight-man Ineos Grenadier line-up for the 107th Tour de France will be (in alphabetic order):
- Andrey Amador (Costa Rica)
- Egan Bernal (Colombia)
- Richard Carapaz (Ecuador)
- Jonathan Castroviejo (Spain)
- Michal Kwiatkowski (Poland)
- Luke Rowe (Wales)
- Pavel Sivakov (Russia)
- Dylan van Baarle (Netherlands)
Egan Bernal: an introduction to the 2019 Tour champion
Back in January 2018, when Egan Bernal was doing his first race as part of the British outfit, then known as Team Sky, RIDE Media did a long video interview with him. He had turned 21 just two days earlier and few knew too much about him.
As we approach the Grand Départ of the delayed 2020 Tour de France, here is a flashback to that introductory exchange that I had with Egan Bernal.
You can watch the video by clicking the link below, or read the transcript of the interview from January 2018 below.
Note: Egan begins the interview by asking me to speak slowly, reminding me that English is his third language… and my grasp of Spanish is non-existent. Some slight editing is required for clarity but it’s largely a verbatim transcript of the YouTube interview. (Rob)
Egan Bernal: “Just the talk slow, and I can understand.”
RIDE Media: It’s very simple… but I need the [correct] pronunciation of your name.
Egan Bernal: “Egan Bernal.”
RIDE Media: I’ve got an opportunity to catch up with a bright young star of the cycling scene. Egan Bernal: he signed for Team Sky. He won the Tour de l’Avenir . A lot of people have heard about him. And we’ve got an opportunity to talk some cycling with you. I’m excited about it.
Egan Bernal: “I’m exciting.”
RIDE Media: I don’t get to interview Colombians very often because it’s a very… ah, Spanish [speaking] world… But you, I have been told, speak good English. Where did you learn your English?
Egan Bernal: “First of all, I speak so little English.
“I learned about three years ago. I studied in English for, I don’t know, five months, or six months, when I was [doing] mountain [biking]. And then I [moved] to Italia, to an Italian team of road, and I forgot all my English.
“I learned Italian but forgot the English.”
RIDE Media: You live a cosmopolitan life, but I understand – and you can correct me – but someone told me that, a couple of years ago, you sat in on Colombian parliament or you did some studies… [that] you were interested in life outside of sport. Can you explain what you were doing?
Egan Bernal: “When I finished the normal school in Colombia, I started universitybut, also, I continued [with] the bike…
“It was very difficult because my university was, I don’t know, maybe 30 kilometres from home. And the classes started at 7.00 or 8.00am and I woke up at, I don’t know, maybe 4.00 or 5.00am for training before university.
“And then, I arrived [at] the university – and, I don’t know, there was a couple of months. Very hard. But I really liked the university.
“I arrived, a lot of times, maybe five or six minutes late [to] the class… And the teachers… I don’t know I don’t know how you say… [but] for them, the bike was not an excuse for arriving late. And I lost… the university [placement].
RIDE Media: You were expelled?
Egan Bernal: “Yeah. At that moment, I had a good… I don’t know how you say… primaria…
RIDE Media: Results?
Egan Bernal: “[Good] results… in the university, but I could not continue arriving late. So, [my lecturer, tells] me: ‘You need to choose: the university, or the bike.’
“And, [at] that moment, I chose university. For me it was most important.
“But then, a lot of people – [including] my parents – all them, say to me: ‘No, no, no… you need to continue on the bike…’ ‘You need to continue.’
“And for me it was difficult. I liked the study. So, all of them, said to me: ‘Maybe try one year… if, in this year, you see – you look – and if you cannot be a good cyclist, you can [go] back to university.
“The next year I was second in the world championships on the mountain bike, juniors. And [now]… I am here.”
RIDE Media: It’s a beautiful topic to bring up, because we have you as a road cycling professional, but you come to cycling through MTB. Mountain biking is beautiful, huh?
Egan Bernal: “Yeah, it is. I really miss it…
“It’s different. So different. But my heart is here [on] the road but, of course, the mountain bike is very beautiful.
RIDE Media: It’s a sheer joy.
Egan Bernal: “Yeah, it’s really different. Also the training. [On the road] it is a lot of kilometres and kilometres… and up and down, but always on the road bike… and, I don’t know, maybe sometimes it is boring. But the mountain bike it is always [fun]. You have a lot of trails and other people and it’s a little bit more [fun].
“But… my heart is [with] the road.”
RIDE Media: And the salary comes from the road… we understand that there’s more money in the road cycling scene…
Egan Bernal: “But… it’s not for that – not for the money…
“I [do] it because, like I say, my heart is here.
“When I was, I don’t know – maybe six or seven years old – I saw the Tour, or Giro, with my dad and I said to him, ‘Some time, I will be there.’ And it’s like this for that.”
RIDE Media: It’s funny isn’t it… so, you can be… you can enjoy the thrill of mountain biking.
You can enjoy the variety of mountain biking. You can become a silver medallist at the world championships and get your foot back in the cycling door… but ultimately the romance of road cycling, it overcomes all of that and you come to road cycling.
Egan Bernal: “I think it’s a little bit more exciting when I am here… when I am competing with other guys, maybe like here at the Santos Tour Down Under with Richie Porte or… Sagan, or a lot of stars. For me, it’s exciting because I saw them on TV one day. Now I am here.”
RIDE Media: You come with a big reputation. You come [to] the biggest team in the world, and you seem excited… When you were racing Sagan and Richie Porte, did you get goosebumps?
Egan Bernal: “No. Not like that but… because, you know, is it’s also the competitiveness…? I don’t know how do you say it? They are from another team, so I need to do also a good result. I saw them and I said [to] myself: ‘Wow, it’s Sagan!’ Or, ‘It’s Richie Porte…’ but I continue riding and pushing hard but it’s like I saw [them] on the TV but now I am here…”
RIDE Media: Soon it’ll be Richie Porte saying: ‘There’s Egan Bernal…’
Egan Bernal: [Laughs] “Okay. I hope. I hope.”
RIDE Media: I had the pleasure of being in the convoy, obviously in a team car, for stage one [of the 2018 Tour Down Under]. And you came past, with a team-mate – he had taken a nature break… and I got to see your pedalling style, through the convoy.
You have the most elegant pedalling style that I can remember.
Egan Bernal: “Thank you.”
RIDE Media: Does it feel like that to you? You know, some people look cumbersome and difficult on a bike. Chris Froome is a big champion, but he looks dreadful on a bike… [Laughs] Your style is elegant and beautiful.
Egan Bernal: “Because, in that moment, I was relaxed. But when you see, maybe some videos when I am full-gas… it’s not the same.”
RIDE Media: But, for a mountain biker, you sit on the road bike beautifully.
Egan Bernal: “Yeah, I think the mountain bike is a good school for the road cycling… maybe you can be in a good position for the road. It’s different but I think it can be a good school for the road.”
RIDE Media: I don’t have a big understanding of Colombia. I’ve never been to Colombia. When they report on cycling – and the heritage of cycling in Colombia – it’s always said that the population is crazy for cycling. Is it true?
Egan Bernal: “Yeah, it’s true. More for the… for football. But I think the second sport, where more people are, is cycling. First is football but second is cycling.
“And I think these years – with Rigo, Nairo, Chaves and Gaviria – I think is a little bit more popular. But… still in second place.”
RIDE Media: Success breeds more success.
Egan Bernal: “Yeah. Okay.”
RIDE Media: What do you expect from the first year with Team Sky?
Egan Bernal: “I… I don’t know. I think: just learn.
“I’m young and… of course, I want to do something… I don’t know: maybe win some stage or maybe do a good general classification – it can be here [2018 TDU, his first race with Team Sky, where he finished sixth on GC and won the youth classification] or in another race.
“But I really want to help other people, because it’s normal. When you are young and you are riding in a big team you need to learn, and to learn you need to help another…
“And… when you are a leader, you can know what happens when you are helping another guy. You know?
“I want to do that: maybe help, I don’t know, maybe Geraint Thomas or Chris Froome or another guy like them… to win something, some race.”
RIDE Media: Does it help, when you talk about Chris or Geraint, or some other riders you are with that you’ve seen them on television, that you understand their style? Did you watch a lot of cycling or do you just practice cycling?
Egan Bernal: “No, I enjoy watching cycling.
“When it’s the Giro or Tour, I’m also with my dad, in my home, watching the Tour. I’ll continue to do that.”
RIDE Media: And home life? Are your parents are still together? Is it like that? You have your mother and father [still at home]?
Egan Bernal: “Yeah.”
RIDE Media: Brothers and sisters?
Egan Bernal: “Yeah, one brother. One little brother – [he’s] 11… 11 or 12 [in January 2018, when this interview was recorded].”
RIDE Media: And he’ll become a bike rider, do you think? We see the Quintanas –Nairo and his brother [Dayer], racing professional. [Esteban] Chaves and [Brayan] Chaves…
Egan Bernal: “Si.”
RIDE Media: Is your 11-year-old brother going to come and give you a hard time?
Egan Bernal: “I hope. I hope, but I don’t know. It’s difficult with him.”
RIDE Media: But it’s the culture of Columbia… to ride a bike. If you’re a young athlete you gravitate to soccer – or football… Or cycling?
Egan Bernal: “Yeah… you can [get] entry to a little team of the city or something like that.
“I started in that form and I think all of the Colombian guys started like that.”
RIDE Media: Is it a healthy scene for the youth? Is it easy to become a cyclist in Colombia?
Egan Bernal: “No, it’s not easy. To arrive here [in a WorldTour team], I think it’s not easy.
“Maybe, if you have money, it’s a little bit more easy but if you are a normal person, it’s not easy.
“Also, because we are in America – in ‘the other’ part of the world. Maybe if Colombia was – I don’t know – in Europa, then it’s a little bit easier. But because the world of cycling is in Europe not in America, it’s difficult.”
RIDE Media: Do you come from money?
Egan Bernal: “No. No, no, no.”
RIDE Media: Rod Ellingworth explained to me that at Christmas time you got some gifts for people in the village where you come from.
Egan Bernal: “Yes.”
RIDE Media: Because you’ve had success, you would have a good contract, I’d imagine… Can you tell me the story?
Egan Bernal: “Yes. I come from where… I don’t know. How do you say… a little part of the city where people don’t have money and really, it’s a little bit dangerous – that part of the city.
“Then, we moved to another part of town… And now, my parents live in it’s not that it’s not a bad part of the city but still… I know the people don’t have a lot of money.
“And maybe the parents of the guys – of the little [kids] – don’t have a lot of money to buy … I don’ t know, maybe a little [gift] for the [kids].
“My family, with me, we bought something for the [kids].
“I continue living there, with my parents because I like it. And the people there, when I arrive, they are very excited and the kids… when I arrive, they say, ‘Ah, it’s the second Quintana…!’ Or, ‘It’s Rigo…!’ They are playing, but I like them.”
RIDE Media: It’s fun. It’s your world.
Egan Bernal: “Yeah. Yeah. It’s a different world.”
RIDE Media: Where will you live this year? (During the season.)
Egan Bernal: I think maybe in Bilbao. Sometime. But I will spend a lot of time in Colombia, I think. I think [I’ll still live] in Colombia.”
RIDE Media: The other discussion point of that Colombia is that it’s at altitude.
Your village? How high is it?
Egan Bernal: “2,600 metres… But I can [go to] 3,400m. Easy.”
RIDE Media: You can ride to that? The roads lead to that height?
Egan Bernal: “Yeah.”
RIDE Media: It sounds like a dumb question but I’ll put it in layman’s terms… When you go to sea level, do you feel like King of the Universe?
Egan Bernal: “No. No, no, no.
“No. It feels… I don’t know… I feel, yeah a little bit better but not too much… Maybe another person feels better but for me you can see, maybe, in the heart rate – it’s a little… you can go a little bit easy with the heart rate. But the feeling is the same. For me.
“The sensation is the same.
“For example, we are here at the Tour Down Under, and I come [from] altitude and today was very, very, very hard.
“When I [go] to Colombia from here, I feel the difference.”
RIDE Media: When you go up, it’s different…?
Egan Bernal: “Yeah, it’s different. I arrive there and when I go up the stairs… I feel like… pfff. Really different. But when I go from Colombia to sea level, I think it’s the same [sensations].
RIDE Media: Okay. It’s just myth-busting that we’re trying to do. Because everyone assumes that you are super-human because you grew up at 2,600 metres…
With cycling, we understand the body better because there’s blood passports and a lot of controls and different things. When you went through the blood passport application, was there any anomaly in your blood? Because you’re an altitude native, do you have a high hematocrit, for example? Do you know anything like that?
Egan Bernal: “No, I don’t think so.”
RIDE Media: There’s no anomaly because of…
Egan Bernal: “Really, I don’t look at that. I never see my hematocrit or my hemoglobin. I never see that. And I never control that.”
RIDE Media: That’s the new buzz-word: ‘Altitude Natives’…
Egan Bernal: “I don’t know. The UCI do to me, the control but I never see the results.
“If it’s okay, it’s okay.”
RIDE Media: You go. You give the blood. Thank you very much.
Egan Bernal: “Yeah.”
RIDE Media: And now, you race your bike.
You’ve just turned 21, two days ago. I wish you a happy birthday. I could talk for a lot longer but I’m aware of the time. I want to say thanks very much for taking the chance to introduce yourself to me and, hopefully, a bigger audience. I wish all the best with your first season with Team Sky.
Egan Bernal: “Thank you very much.”
– Interview by Rob Arnold (15 January 2018)