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Egan Bernal’s Return May Be Sooner Than Expected

By Siegfried Mortkowitz

After the conclusion of an exciting Tour de France, which featured a dramatic duel between Jonas Vingegaard and Tadej Pogačar, it’s an appropriate time to wonder how the 2019 Tour winner Egan Bernal is doing. Since becoming the first Latin American winner of the Tour, and the youngest winner of the race since 1909, things have not gone well for the Ineos Grenadiers rider.

He was dogged by physical ailments and has won only one race of note since then, the 2021 Giro d’Italia. And then, in January of this year, during a training ride in Colombia, he suffered horrific injuries when he crashed into the back of a bus that had pulled over to allow passengers to disembark.

Bernal fractured his kneecap, femur, several vertebrae and some ribs and suffered a punctured lung and chest trauma. He underwent seven surgical interventions to repair the damage. So serious were the injuries that, shortly after the accident, Bernal said he had a 95% chance of becoming a paraplegic. That tragic eventuality was avoided, but the question must be asked as to how long it will take him to reach his Tour-winning fitness – and turn this year’s Tour duel into a future three-man rivalry. After all, it took four-time Tour winner Chris Froome more than three years after a serious training crash to become competitive again, and he is still nowhere near his Tour-winning form. In fact, he hasn’t won a race since the accident.

But Froome is 12 years older than Bernal, which makes quite a difference in terms of both the speed of recovery and optimal form. One of the doctors who treated the Colombian was obviously proud of their work and said, in April, that he could feasibly return to racing by May. “From the 120th day after the accident, I think Egan can return to his maximum power, get on the pedals and resume competition,” Gustavo Uriza said during an online press conference, as reported by the Colombian news outlet Sports. That was clearly overly optimistic.

However, on July 19 Bernal tweeted a photo of himself on a bike in the mountains, next to a photo of a device that showed he had ridden 194.4 km in 5 hrs 50 mins, while climbing 4,004 m to an altitude of 2.438 m. The photos were accompanied by the message: “Someone once told me: Rome was not built in a single day. And after a lot of patience, I can’t wait to get back to Competition.”

And now there appears to be a chance that Bernal will ride in the Vuelta d’España, which begins on August 19. In an interview with Radio MARCA, race director Javier Guillén said that the Colombian will be at the start in Utrecht. This has yet to be confirmed by Ineos Grenadiers, who have maintained a prudent silence. However, Bernal has been training in Andorra with several of the team’s riders scheduled to race the Vuelta. Though this doesn’t prove anything, it does suggest that his comeback in the race is a strong possibility.

If it is confirmed, it would be great for Bernal, Ineos Genadiers and the Vuelta, terrific for us cycling fans and wonderful news for the 2023 Tour de France.