Has it really been just a couple of seasons since Egan Bernal dominated his way to victory in the 2019 Tour de France? It feels as though we’ve collectively lived 28 years in those intervening 28 months.
Much has changed in the world and in cycling since Bernal took his maiden Grand Tour win (and denied team-mate Geraint Thomas a second overall title). The most notable (in cycling at least) being the advent of the Age of Pogacar, the Slovenian taking two Tour de France victories on the bounce.
In August 2019, with Bernal newly-minted as the maillot jaune, it felt like we were entering a different new age – one that would be dominated by him and Ineos, in the same way Chris Froome and Team Sky had done, or Indurain and Banesto. It has not so far proved to be so.
Tour de France
'It is time to return' - Bernal ready for 2022 Tour tilt
- 'It is time to return' - Bernal ready for 2022 Tour tilt
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This week the Colombian was quoted by Mundo Ciclistico Magazine as saying he had designs on the 2022 Tour.
“It’s clear that we are going to focus all our preparation and efforts thinking about competing in the Tour de France next year.”
Bernal also expressed his desire to return to the path that saw him win his only yellow jersey to date.
“It is time to return to the path we took in 2019 and from which we have separated a little.”
Bernal must have the leadership of Ineos in July if he is to win the Tour, but his path to that is far from clear. He proved by winning the Giro last year that he is still very much a contender.
Thomas is still, reportedly, in contract negotiations with Ineos about riding for the team next year. So frequently has this been the case in past seasons, the announcement that he has ‘finally penned a deal’ is rapidly earning a permanent spot on the calendar somewhere between the Ghent Six Day and Christmas.
If the unthinkable were to happen and Thomas were to leave Ineos, the team he has represented for over a decade, Bernal’s path to Tour leadership would become a lot simpler. But it wouldn’t be completely without obstacles.
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Richard Carapaz will continue with Ineos through the next season, and he managed a creditable third place at the Tour behind Pogacar and Jonas Vingegaard (Team Jumbo Visma) in 2021. The Ecuadorian won the Giro a couple of years back, too, demonstrating he does have the chops to take a Grand Tour win. The reality of Carapaz’s third place, however, is that he was still more than seven minutes down on Pogacar. In Grand Tour terms, that’s not even close.
And then of course there is the back problem, which hangs like the Sword of Damocles above Bernal, and saw him withdraw from the Tour in 2020. Bernal has indicated that he believes the problem is solved, but he and his support team are continuing to monitor it and strengthen the area.
The question then for Ineos’ team selectors is complex. Do they go with the still-young phenom with a dodgy back who has won the race before? Do they put their support behind the long-serving company man, Thomas, who will not take well to being punted out of the Tour squad and still carries a lot of weight within the team setup? Or do they choose Carapaz who might be just the sort of chaotic, unpredictable wildcard to unsettle Pogacar?
Let's just hope they don't choose 'the trident'.
Tour de France
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Tour de France
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