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Comment: Egan Bernal has nothing to lose, everything to gain at the Vuelta

Will Strickson
13 Aug 2021

With two Grand Tours under his belt at just 24 and a talented team, Bernal can ride the attacking race we've longed for. Photos: Chris Auld

Egan Bernal is already a legend of the sport. That's the privilege you get from winning the Tour de France, no matter the circumstances. Just ask Óscar Pereiro.

Although he struggled with back issues in 2020, Bernal bounced back at the Giro d'Italia earlier this year, dominating the race and never looking like losing – the only hiccup coming in week three when he needed a pep talk by teammate and compatriot Dani Martínez to help push him up the mountain.

Thanks to that performance, Bernal is now in a position to complete his set of Grand Tours at just 24 years old, only seven riders have ever done that: Jacques Anquetil, Felice Gimondi, Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault, Alberto Contador, Vincenzo Nibali and Chris Froome. Not only that, but he'd be the youngest to ever do it.

However since that first Tour de France victory, when many concluded he would breeze to the yellow jersey for the foreseeable, Tadej Pogačar happened, so now Bernal finds himself in a strange position of being a young prospect, a historic champion and sort of an underdog.

Going into his first Vuelta a España on Saturday he is, of course, one of the favourites, but the real pressure is on Primož Roglič, who is returning from crashing out of the Tour and dominating the Olympic time-trial to the race he has won for the last two years.

It's Roglič's race to lose.

While for some being a team leader and second favourite would bring pressure and expectation to perform, Bernal is in a different position.

With Richard Carapaz and Adam Yates backing him up – both capable of going for a GC win themselves – the red jersey is there for the taking. Especially if you compare it to Roglič's Jumbo-Visma side.

If, for whatever reason, it doesn't work out for Bernal, his Ineos Grenadiers team have Plan B and Plan C ready, even Plan D if you consider going for stage wins with Jhonatan Narváez, Tom Pidcock, Salvatore Puccio, Pavel Sivakov and Dylan van Baarle. It's not all or nothing.

Bernal has already won a Grand Tour this year, job done, season objective ticked off. He can afford to not win.

If he does come out on top and seals the red jersey in three weeks' time at Santiago de Compostela, it's individual, team and national glory, it's history. It would also put some doubt back into men's professional cycling, if he can beat Roglič, does that then mean he can beat Pogačar? Maybe, just maybe.

Either way it means that Bernal and Ineos can approach this Vuelta with the pizzazz we were promised at the end of 2020. The three-pronged attack we thought we'd get at the Tour, we can get at the Vuelta. The competitive racing we've been longing for all year could be on the cards.