By Julien Pretot
VALTHORENS, France (Reuters) – Egan Bernal’s early season did not go as planned but a broken collarbone at training proved to be a blessing in disguise for the Team Ineos climber, who is poised to become the first Colombian to win the Tour de France on Sunday.
Bernal skipped the Giro d’Italia after sustaining the injury and was promoted to Ineos co-leader with defending champion Geraint Thomas when four-time winner Chris Froome pulled out following a heavy crash in June.
Bernal repaid the team’s trust with a flawless ride from Brussels, making up for a relatively disappointing individual time trial with strong displays in the mountains where he was only beaten by France’s Thibaut Pinot who abandoned on Friday.
“Since last October we planned for the Giro, thinking about the Giro all the time,” Bernal, who is leading Thomas by one minute 11 seconds going into the mostly-processional final stage to Paris, explained on Saturday.
The Tour, however, was always in the back of his mind after he had impressed in 2018 in supporting Froome and Thomas.
“At some point, I thought about not doing the Giro but the Tour, but eventually the Giro was the goal,” the 22-year-old said.
“But sadly I broke my collarbone. Maybe that happened for a reason and now I’m about to win the Tour de France, it’s really incredible.
“I don’t know if it’s called fate or destiny that if I hadn’t crashed before the Giro, I would not be in that position today.”
Riding a Giro-Tour double would have been an impossible feat for a 22-year-old, with the last rider to manage to win both races the same season being Marco Pantani in 1998.
“Two hours after the crash before the Giro, when I was still in pain, almost crying, I asked my coach how much time we have before the Tour and I started thinking about the Tour,” Bernal said.
The impact of what he has achieved on the Tour, though, has not yet sunk in for Bernal.
“Everything comes so quickly that I just can’t believe it yet,” he said.
“These last few days all I needed to do was get up, weigh myself, have breakfast, have the team briefing, race, massage, eat, sleep.
“I don’t know what’s going on in Colombia, I don’t even know what’s happening outside of the team to be honest.”
(Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Ian Chadband)