Egan Bernal, Ineos Grenadiers’ defending champion, has been pulled from the Tour de France to “focus on his recovery and reset his goals for the remainder of the season”.
The announcement, made ahead of the start of stage 17 of the race, from Grenoble to Meribel, is not a huge surprise. After his dramatic collapse on the Grand Colombier on Sunday, which ended the team’s chances of winning an eighth yellow jersey in nine years, the 23-year-old Colombian was clearly in discomfort when racing resumed on Tuesday following the second rest day.
Bernal rolled home in the grupetto, having fulfilled a promise to do bottle duty for his team-mates, and there were whispers afterwards that he might abandon due to a niggling back issue.
Bernal told ITV that compensating for his back had also led to some discomfort in his knee, although he added that he wanted to fight on. The team have clearly decided that would be unwise given his age, his injuries and the attention on him as defending champion.
There is also the fact that Wednesday’s stage is the biggest of the race in terms of mountains.
“We have taken this decision with Egan’s best interests at heart,” Ineos team principal Sir Dave Brailsford said in a statement. “Egan is a true champion who loves to race, but he is also a young rider, with many Tours ahead of him and at this point, on balance, we feel it is wiser for him to stop racing.”
Bernal added: “This is obviously not how I wanted my Tour de France to end, but I agree that it is the right decision for me in the circumstances. I have the greatest respect for this race and I am already looking forward to coming back in the years ahead.”
Depending on how his recovery goes, Bernal could now target the Vuelta a Espana in October/November alongside Chris Froome in what will be latter’s final race for Ineos before moving to Israel Start-Up Nation.
Wednesday’s stage is the designated Queen stage of the race, heading over the Col de la Madeleine and ending with a new climb for the Tour, the Col de la Loze. The final climb features ramps of 24 per cent, and ends at an altitude of 2304m, the highest point of the race. Normally terrain that Bernal would love.