Egan Bernal is still struggling to believe he won the Tour de France.
The 22-year-old became the youngest winner of cycling’s biggest race in 110 years when he took victory ahead of Ineos team-mate and defending champion Geraint Thomas last month.
“To be honest, I don’t really believe it yet,” Bernal said on the Team Ineos website. “I feel the same as I did before the Tour. I think I just need a couple of days at home, staying really calm, and then I’ll start to believe that I have won the Tour. I can’t process it.
“I have won the biggest race, but I’ll still be happy to win a small race. Right now I think that I am the same guy that started the Tour in Belgium one month ago.”
Bernal began the year targeting the Giro d’Italia and showed his excellent form with victory in Paris-Nice in March.
He suffered a broken collarbone in a training crash which ended his Giro hopes, but immediately turned his attention to the Tour and was elevated to co-leader alongside Thomas after June’s Tour de Suisse – in which Thomas crashed out and Bernal went on to take overall victory.
Bernal had only raced the Tour once before – finishing 15th last year while helping Thomas to victory – but despite his youth he never seemed fazed by the spotlight which came with co-leadership of a team which has now won seven of the last eight editions.
“Maybe the key to winning the Tour is just trying to enjoy it,” Bernal said. “During the Tour, the media talk about pressure, pressure, pressure, but if I’d started to think about that, maybe I wouldn’t have ridden the same.
“But throughout the Tour I knew I had prepared in the best way I could. What could I do then? Just enjoy it and ride as fast as I could.
“I knew I would do my best so I would have been happy with any result – either winning the Tour or helping G win. In the end I just knew I needed to go full gas, enjoy the race, and stay calm.”
In a Tour which will be remembered for Julian Alaphilippe’s improbable 14-day spell in the yellow jersey, Bernal did not take the lead until a weather-shortened stage 19 when his attack on the Col de l’Iseran proved decisive.
With the following day’s stage also truncated due to landslides, Bernal had little time to get comfortable in yellow and was still trying to get his head around it as he stood on the podium in Paris.
“It was just amazing,” he said. “I almost cried on the podium. When I was really young, I saw (Alberto) Contador and the big battles with (Andy) Schleck, then guys like (Sir Bradley) Wiggins and (Chris) Froomey.
“I saw them on the TV. And wow, I couldn’t imagine that one day I would be there. On the podium I was thinking of them. It was just amazing because my Dad and my girlfriend were there. It was a special moment.”
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It was another long weekend full of racing for UAE Team Emirates, with riders spread across Europe in a mix of one-day classics and stage races.
In Poland, Fernando Gaviria began to show what he is capable of as he continues to recover from his knee injury. The Colombian has already taken two second-place finishes in two consecutive flat stages at the Tour de Pologne – narrowly missing out on the wins to Pascal Ackermann (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Luka Mezgec (Mitchelton-Scott) on Stages 1 and 2 respectively.
In the UK, Alexander Kristoff went into the Ride London-Surrey Classic looking to match his 2017 performance, which saw him take top spot on the podium. However, bad luck beset the Norwegian with a crash in the final phase of the race decimating the peloton and causing havoc with the sprinters’ lead out trains.
Kristoff said: “I got involved in the crash with 2km to go. I lost about 20 positions and used a lot of energy to get back to the front. On the final straight we went early but then the guy in front of (Roberto) Ferrari stopped and we lost our speed, just as Quickstep took us on the right hand side.
“They had a really strong lead-out and were coming too fast, so I didn’t have time to react. I managed to get on the wheel after a while but it was too late for me.”
The race was eventually won in a reduced bunch sprint finish by Elia Viviani (Deceuninck Quick-Step).
Chris Froome described the aftermath of his horror crash at the Criterium du Dauphine as like something out of a television drama but believes he is ahead of schedule in his rehabilitation as he sets his sights on next summer’s Tour de France.
Froome’s hopes of a record-equalling fifth Tour title this year were ended in violent fashion in June when he crashed heavily during a recon ride of the time trial route of the Dauphine, suffering multiple broken bones including a fractured neck, a fractured right femur, a broken hip and fractured ribs.
The 34-year-old said he has no recollection of the crash itself and has to rely on the accounts of those who saw it, but he can recall what came next.
“I think it really was one of those freak, freak accidents,” Froome said in a video released by Team Ineos on Saturday.
“I can remember lying on the ground and I remember the first responders coming over to me. My coach Tim Kerrison, Gary Blem, my mechanic and Servais Knaven, my director, were all in the car behind me.
“I think my first question was, ‘Can I get up? Can I get back on my bike? Am I going to be OK?’ And they made it very clear that I wasn’t and I should just lie still and that I wouldn’t be carrying on with the rest of the race.
“One of my first questions was, ‘Am I going to be alright for the Tour de France?’ and they very quickly put that out of my mind. They obviously couldn’t give a prognosis but they said it looks like your leg is broken and your arm doesn’t look good either.
“So no, you’re not going to be on your bike.
“I think those first few moments are the ones that really sort of hit home and I took it on board that I’m not going be racing the Tour de France this summer. It almost felt like a scene from Grey’s Anatomy or something.”
In his first interview since the crash that ended his 2019 season, @ChrisFroome reflects on the incident and details his rigorous daily recovery regime which is helping him move closer to his goal of lining up on the start line for the 2020 Tour de France. pic.twitter.com/qWaubno3fz
In his first interview since the crash that ended his 2019 season, @ChrisFroome reflects on the incident and details his rigorous daily recovery regime which is helping him move closer to his goal of lining up on the start line for the 2020 Tour de France. pic.twitter.com/qWaubno3fz— Team INEOS (@TeamINEOS) August 3, 2019
Froome was immediately taken to hospital it Saint Etienne where he underwent a lengthy operation.
“I could barely even breathe after surgery,” he said. “My lungs had been damaged by my broken ribs and my broken sternum. I was coughing up blood and was having help to breathe.
“It was scary when I came around the morning after the operation and just felt how hopeless I was, lying in that bed. Twenty-four hours previously I was hoping to win the Criterium du Dauphine.
“It was polar opposites. That was quite hard to come to terms with.”
But Froome said his mindset changed as soon as he was told by surgeons that he could make a 100 per cent recovery.
“That’s all I wanted to hear at that point,” he said. “From that point on, it felt like everyone was so positive.”
Froome said he is doing up to six hours of exercises a day and has been given the green light to start bearing weight on his damaged right leg.
“I think it’s safe to say I’m ahead of all the predictions that were made initially,” he said.
A long battle remains in front of him given the seriousness of his injuries and it remains to be seen if he can return to his previous level, but Froome is clear on his target.
“The only goal I’ve set myself is to get back to the Tour de France next year,” he said.
“Week by week I set myself little goals in terms of allowing myself a bit more movement, just small goals. But for me, the underlying goal is to get to the start of the Tour de France next year in 2020 and to be at a similar or better position than I was this year.
“That’s what’s driving me at the moment.”