"Absolute leader" of Ineos on the Tour de France, Egan Bernal comes to the big start on Saturday in Nice in a strong position. The position of the defending champion and his bib 1, of course, but above all that of the finally undisputed strongman within the ex-Team Sky.
The Andean climber took the keys to the 4x4 Grenadier alone, named after the all-terrain vehicle designed by Ineos and now attached to the name of the team, ejecting passengers Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas in the process, five Tours de France between them.
"Egan deserves to be the leader, he is a brilliant rider, a great talent. We will start the Tour with him as absolute leader", repeated Friday in a press conference the boss of the formation Ineos Dave Brailsford.
Even if he has "experienced extraordinary things" with the two Brits, the boss of Ineos wishes to "look forward".
At 23, the Colombian, the youngest Tour winner since the post-war period, has more years ahead of him than + Froomey + and + G +, 35 and 34 years old.
His wish to achieve the status of undisputed leader, formulated in the spring before retracting it, was finally granted by the genius Dave Brailsford, helped by the level displayed since the takeover by the British duo, in perdition on the Dauphiné. Thomas, the closer of the two, finished nearly an hour behind winner Daniel Martinez.
"I have already won a Tour de France, and I will not miss the opportunity to win another," Bernal announced in May on Eurosport. "If I had to sacrifice myself, being 100%… I don't think I would and no one else would either, for that matter."
Without Froome or Thomas, the question no longer arises, at least not at the start. Especially since the back of the Colombian, because of his abandonment to the Dauphiné, is doing "better".
"I still have some pain, but I feel much better than in the Dauphiné where I was really in pain," he reassured at a press conference on Friday, aware that he will have to "be focused on the race and in great shape from day one ".
"Strategies are changing," observes Brailsford. "We see attacks from further away. This trend will continue on the Tour, it's going to be a very eventful race with a lot of action from the start."
- Ineos "100% behind Egan" -
Whatever, the ex-Team Sky, crowned seven times in the last eight Tours, is aiming for nothing other than victory in France: "We are here to win the race, we are ambitious and we always have it summer, ”says Brailsford.
And to win with Bernal, in search of the double: "He's the leader, that's clear. It's simple and simplicity brings clarity," the boss of Ineos tries his hand at transparency. "We're 100% behind Egan." One way to refute a potential use of the Richard Carapaz card.
The Ecuadorian, unexpected winner of the Giro 2019 where he was not the first card of his former Movistar team, also showed unfailing support for Bernal on Friday: "Egan is in great shape, we will see day after day. Our leader is going well and we'll ride for him, ”Carapaz says.
The assumption that he takes responsibility according to the race scenario? "It's not something we imagined," he sweeps.
"Egan is fine, we will support him until the end," promises the 27-year-old climber. "If things change, we'll see."
© 2020 AFP