Colombia's Bernal launches second Tour tilt at home race

Rodrigo ALMONACID
AFP
Egan Bernal, pictured in October, is the first and only Latin American to have won the Tour de France, cycling's most prestigious race (AFP Photo/MARCO BERTORELLO)
Egan Bernal, pictured in October, is the first and only Latin American to have won the Tour de France, cycling's most prestigious race (AFP Photo/MARCO BERTORELLO)

Bogota (AFP) - Tour de France champion Egan Bernal will make his return to international competition at his home Tour Colombia this week as he builds up to what he has described as his only goal for the year: retaining his title in Paris in July.

Bernal, 23, leads an impressive field of not just South America's finest cyclists but also some of the best from Europe too.

"The Tour Colombia is one of the most important races at a pan-American level," said Bernal.

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"It's quite prestigious and some very good riders come here given it's not a World Tour level race."

In fact, two of the three Grand Tour winners from last year will be on the start line as Bernal's Ineos team-mate and Giro d'Italia winner in 2019, Richard Carapaz, will also race.

"It's unique, the altitude will make its mark, it's a really tough race," said Ecuadoran Carapaz, 26, who switched to Ineos from Movistar in the close season.

French star Julian Alaphilippe, who led last year's Tour de France for most of the three weeks before fading to fifth, and 2015 Vuelta a Espana champion Fabio Aru of Italy will also test their legs.

"I'm going to give it everything, 100 percent until the end," said 29-year-old Aru.

However, last year's Tour Colombia winner Miguel Angel Lopez and compatriot Nairo Quintana, a past winner of both the Giro and Vuelta, are missing.

The 2020 edition of the race is a brutal, hilly affair at altitude that will test the riders' lung capacity.

The entirety of the race takes place above 2,500-meters -- already higher than the highest point on the Tour de France in July.

"Racing there at over 2,500 meters is going to be very demanding," said Colombian time-trial champion Daniel Martinez.

"It's going to be very hard for all the Europeans."

The decisive sixth and final stage on Sunday culminates with a climb up to the Puerto de El Verjon at 3,290 meters.

Tuesday opening stage is a 16.7 kilometer team time-trial around Tunja in which the powerful Ineos squad will look to lay down a marker.

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