Giro d’Italia 2021: Egan Bernal wins GC, but Olympic involvement remains uncertain

Colombia’s Egan Bernal won the Tour de France in 2019 and the Giro d'Italia this year but a back injury is putting his Tokyo 2020 Games hopes at risk.

By Ed Knowles
Picture by 2021 Getty Images

The moment of triumph for Egan Bernal and Colombian cycling fans at the 2021 Giro d’Italia is an unquestionable moment to savour.

The Ineos Grenadier rider won the overall general classification victory on Sunday (30th May) after taking a lead of 1 minute and 59 seconds into the final stage time trial.

The 2019 Tour de France winner made no mistake on the last day, to top the podium at the Italian Grand Tour race for the first time.

A long-standing back injury may not have overly complicated his path in Italy but it’s meant that he’s had to pull out of the Tour de France and put his involvement at the upcoming Olympics in Tokyo under threat.

Egan Bernal: back injury puts Olympic appearance in doubt

Speaking at a rest day press conference in Italy, Bernal backed his team to perform well at the Tour de France without him.

"I think I won’t go to the Tour, I think guys who are now in the Tour team can do really well.

"I prefer to just focus on the second part of the season, maybe ride La Vuelta [a Espana]. I’m not sure about the Olympics because I still have problems in my back.

"I’m not going to lie, it still hurts me sometimes, more than anything up to halfway through than at the end of the stages.

"It worries me because this could be affecting the lower back and all that area. We are doing physiotherapy every day.”

Egan Bernal and Colombia: A pool of talent for the Olympics

Colombia have a very talented road cycling team. Despite the fierce competition for places, the federation cleared the way for Bernal to compete at the Tokyo 2020 Games in 2021.

According to Marca, Bernal said: "I am very happy with the confidence that the national federation has shown me.

“There's also Miguel Angel Lopez, Nairo Quintana, and others who also deserve to race.”

Bernal’s dominance at the Giro d’Italia was based on his stunning performance in the mountain stages.

Tokyo’s road race of 234km contains 4,865 metres of climbing which would appear to suit Bernal's abilities.

Tough timing: Olympic cycling and the Tour de France

Bernal’s decision to rest would seem logical given his injury.

The men's road race at Tokyo 2020 will be on Saturday 24 July 2021 and the Tour de France finishes on Sunday 18 July.

Even with the gruelling schedule, many top name cyclists do compete at both the Tour de France and the Olympics.

Great Britain’s Bradley Wiggins managed to combine a Tour de France yellow jersey win with Olympic gold in 2012.

He won the time trial event but finished 103rd in the road race. Team GB were hoping to aid Mark Cavendish to glory.

In 2016, Greg Van Avermaet led the Tour de France for three days, won a stage, and eventually finished 44th in the overall classifications.

The Belgian took that good form to the Olympics to win the road race in Brazil.

Others choose to use the Olympics as their sole goal for the season.

Swiss rider Fabian Cancellara, who didn’t enter the Tour de France that year, won the time trial and retired a few months later.

Egan Bernal [right] was a promising mountain bike rider in his youth
Picture by 2015 Getty Images

Egan Bernal: Mountain biking foundation

Bernal’s love of cycling is shared by his father who introduced him to the sport and raced in the 1990s.

Before making his mark as top road cyclist, Bernal was a promising mountain bike rider.

He won silver and bronze and the UCI Junior World Mountain Bike Championships in 2014 and 2015.

“I really miss it,” he admitted to Ride Media in 2018.

“It’s different. So different. But my heart is here [on] the road but, of course, the mountain bike is very beautiful.”

Mountain biking is also an Olympic discipline with the men’s cross country race in Tokyo taking place on Monday 26 July.