Ineos Grenadiers confirm Egan Bernal's return to racing in Europe in late March
Ineos Grenadiers have confirmed that Egan Bernal will return to racing in Europe at the end of March after a knee injury slowed his 2023 season, with the Colombian and Ineos expected to choose between the Volta a Catalunya and the Settimana Coppi e Bartali, depending on Bernal’s form.
The 2019 Tour de France winner has made a miraculous recovery from his high-speed training ride crash last January but Ineos Grenadiers are cautious and protective about his recovery. He does not have a guaranteed place in the 2023 Tour de France squad.
With Geraint Thomas still expected to lead Ineos at the Giro d’Italia despite illness disrupting his season debut, Dani Martínez and Carlos Rodriguez appear to be Ineos’ designated leaders for the Tour de France. Bernal could still be part of the eight-rider squad but without the pressure and expectation of trying to win the Tour.
“Egan will be back in Europe pretty soon and so hopefully, he'll be racing at the end of the month,” Ineos Grendadiers team manager Rod Ellingworth told Cyclingnews.
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“He's obviously been a bit frustrated bu we're supporting him. It's been reported that he’s had a knee niggle, which has nothing to do with the crash or the accident from last year. Egan's eager to race but often with these guys, you’ve got to you hold him back.”
Bernal’s talents and 2019 Tour de France win lift him up the Ineos Tour de France hierarchy but he does not have a guaranteed place in the Tour de France team.
“At the end of the day, we've got 30 bike riders and any of them could ride the Tour. You've got to put the best eight on the line, haven't you?” Ellingworth suggested before showing his support for Bernal.
“What we know about Egan and what you could see last year, is that he's still prepared to put in the hard work for the team if he's the leader or not a leader. He's a bit like Geraint Thomas in that sense. They're great role models for the younger guys.
“If Egan was fit enough, why would you not take him to the Tour for his experience and for the help he can give the team. The door’s completely wide open and the Tour is still four months away.”
Bernal’s injuries have left Ineos Grenadiers without a true Tour de France contender as their super-team rivals Jumbo-Visma and UAE Team Emirates compete for the biggest race in the sport and the bragging rights as best team in the world.
Thomas stepped up last year to finish third at the Tour de France behind Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) and Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) but the veteran Welshman will target the Giro d’Italia this year in what could be the final season of his long career.
Tom Pidcock, Pavel Sivakov and Tao Geoghegan Hart all have Grand Tour potential and could all ride this year’s Grand Boucle, but last year Ineos failed to win any of the three Grand Tours for the first time since 2014. They have signed a number of exciting and talented young riders but perhaps need a year or two to develop and become Tour de France podium contenders.
Ineos Grenadier’s lack of a true Tour de France contender for 2023 sparked their audacious move to try and sign Remco Evenepoel during the winter.
“I don't think it's possible to win the Tour all the time,” Ellingworth conceded with honesty, naming Martínez and Rodriguez as their possible Tour de France leaders for this summer.
Martínez won the 2020 Critérium du Dauphiné and the 2022 Itzulia Basque Country but struggled with illness in the 2022 Tour. Twenty-two-year-old Rodriguez is considered a future Grand Tour winner in Spain after his fight to finish seventh on his debut at the Vuelta a España last year. His contract with Ineos ends this year and so a protected role at the Tour de France could convince him to turn down offers from other teams, especially Movistar.
“We've got our group who are looking at the Tour, with Steve Cummings leading the project and we're doing everything we always do,” Ellingworth explained.
“Dani Martínez and maybe Carlos Rodriguez will be getting their opportunity at the Tour. I think it's an ideal Tour for Dani this year and he's still he's growing and improving.
“I think he's really exciting bike rider, who just never gives up. He impressed at the Volta ao Algarve time trial this year to win the race, and again at the Tour de Suisse last year. I'm quite excited about Dani and what he could do at the Tour.”