It’s one thing to suffer faster than your rivals, but it takes a rare breed of rider to suffer with more elegance. Two years on from the crash that nearly ended his life, Egan Bernal is still sifting for the golden form that carried him to the zenith of his sport, yet the style of those days has never left him.
It was in evidence again on Saturday on the Alto del Vino, the decisive rendezvous of the Tour Colombia. In the space of an hour and change, the race scaled almost 2,000 vertical metres, following a two-lane road that rose steadily from the clammy heat of Villeta towards a far-off summit flecked with afternoon mist. The pace was fierce, and the yellow jersey group, like the air, grew thinner with every kilometre that passed.
With 20km remaining, Nairo Quintana was irretrievably dropped, doomed to lose more than six minutes by the top. Later, as Richard Carapaz and his EF Education-EasyPost teammates took turns to attack, it occasionally looked as though Bernal might suffer a similar fate. Yet every time a gap opened, he found a way to close it again, nimbly stitching himself back into the race with those familiar, almost languid pedal strokes.
Even when Bernal was definitively distanced nearer the summit, his pedalling remained fluid. His face wore just a hint of a grimace. He crossed the line in fourth place, 33 seconds down on his old teammate Carapaz. Not where he used to be before, and not quite where he wanted to be now, but getting closer.
It’s early on Tuesday morning, and the peloton is assembling for the opening stage of the Tour Colombia. The event was confirmed too late in the winter for Ineos Grenadiers to add it to their calendar, but Bernal was never going to miss out on the chance to ride and he was freed to line up at the head of the Colombian national team for the week.
La Selecciòn have arrived at the start earlier than most teams. Bernal had already agreed to sit down with Cyclingnews at some point during the week in Colombia and so, with ample time to kill before the race gets underway, he figures there’s no time like the present.
“I enjoy cycling a lot more now,” Bernal says after settling into a plastic seat, wearing an Ineos jacket over his national team jersey. “I enjoy everything in life more now, really. I’m enjoying the little things, like getting home to see my dog or seeing my mother. Everything. I’m enjoying everything in a different way.”
A little over…