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Cycling

Generation Next – Egan Bernal

The Generation Next series is a review of the next big things in cycling. These are the heirs apparent to the throne of the current kings of cycling. Through these articles we will see some on the cusp of greatness, some up and comers and finally some who will be stars in a very specific role. Look for the members of Generation Next to dominate pro cycling for years to come.

Rules:

Must be 25 or Younger at the start of the 2020 season.
Must be only one from each world nation.
Must have at least one big name race win to their name.

Tour de Force

Not many people have a 2019 like Egan Bernal of team Ineos, in the four major stages races he competed in, he won 3 of them and made the podium in the other one. Starting with Paris-Nice Bernal won this race for team Ineos for the team’s 4th win in the space of 5 years. He followed this up with 3rd place at the Volta a Catalunya and finally took victory at the Tour de Suisse before the focus shifted to the Tour de France, and the history books.

Image Credit – The City Paper Bogata

Egan Bernal arrived at the Tour de France as the co-leader of team Ineos however he was seen by many as Geraint Thomas’s Super Domestique. Bernal was the wildcard going into the race because while he had shown serious class in the races so far that year, he had never been tested on the grandest stage in cycling. He turned that form into the biggest victory of his career and became one of only two men from the Americas to win the biggest prize in cycling, the other being Greg LeMond since the removal of all of Lance Armstrong’s titles.

Bernal has shown that he has the ability to win the big ones and can excel in all facets of the stage races. He is an excellent climber; he can handle descents and fairs well in the time trial. He has the ability to take hold of races and when he is on form, he is nearly impossible to race against. The future is bright for the young Colombian.

Climbers Paradise

If there is one thing that Colombia is known for in world cycling it is their climbers, and with a few exceptions all the big names from the currently fit into this category. Nairo Quintana, Miguel Angel Lopez, Rigoberto Uran, Esteban Chaves and many more dominate the mountains and in 2019 Egan Bernal put himself atop that list. The reason why the country of Colombia is so good in the mountains is due in large part to the incredibly difficult terrain young cyclists learn on.

Image Credit – Los Angeles Times

Couple that with Bernal plying his trade with a team that has an extremely strong focus on the Grand Tours and the stage races and the young Colombian is learning from the best. Alongside Grand Tour champions in Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas, Bernal has a distinct advantage in the mountains over his nearest rivals. Ineos is very much a team built to climb and as the title says, he is learning in a climber’s paradise.

The other thing that is a real bonus for Bernal is how the team follow their leader, they work on a next man up basis, as can be seen with Thomas, Bernal and Hart all winning Grand Tours having arrived at the race as the Super Domestique to their team leader. They all work tirelessly to bring victory to the team and know that in doing so, if they are asked to lead, the team will fully support them in an attempt to take victory.

The weight of expectation

Of all of the riders in the generation next series, Egan Bernal was the hottest name in world cycling coming into the 2020 season. Winning 3 of the 4 major stage races he entered and with one of those being the Tour de France, everyone predicted him to maintain that success, and set a new standard in pro cycling. The pandemic put paid to this, however with the season restarting in August, Bernal was still one of the hot favourites to retain his Tour de France title. Ineos sent him with a team more than capable of pulling off this feat.

Image Credit – Eurosport

The season delay did mean that many races such as the Tour de Suisse, Volta a Catalunya, Tour of the Basque Country and the Tour de Romandie were not held, however. Bernal still had a great chance to warm up for his Grand Tour defence with the Criterium de Dauphine which by many is seen as the official Tour de France warm up. Bernal was forced to abandon the race following a fall to start stage 4; however, this was seen as protection of the team Ineos rider, rather than anything more sinister.

Then came the Tour de France, with Team Jumbo Visma playing the usual role Team Ineos would, in controlling the pace and the peloton. Bernal, some say carrying a back injury from the Dauphine, seemed anonymous for most of the race, always around but never threatening. Then came stage 15 and the foot of the Grand Colombier. Bernal had not threatened the race, however had not really seemed to struggle through the previous mountains. Then came one of the biggest falls seen in recent years from a favourite in the Tour de France. Was this due to the injuries sustained in the previous race or was this the weight of expectation finally catching up to Bernal, only time will tell. The questions want answered though is when he abandoned the Tour de France, was he injured or did he quit?

What is next for Egan Bernal?

Unlike the others on this list, Bernal is coming off a disappointing season, and therefore he is in the unenviable position of having something to prove. He is undeniably talented, that is clear, and he is one of the best climbers on the professional tour, but questions are arising already. At just 23 years old, he can right the ship that has been temporarily pushed off course.

Image Credit – Eurosport

He will be back, that is for sure, but with such a competitive team and knowing that Ineos thrive on the next man up attitude does he maintain a position of leadership or does he become one of the best Domestiques cycling has ever seen. With Gran Tour winners in Geraint Thomas, Tao Geoghegen Hart and Richard Carapaz already calling Ineos home, how does he factor into the plans going forward.

Bernal is too talented to let this define him, his victory in 2019 was spectacular, his failure in 2020 equally so. Going off this logic, expect a huge 2021 for Egan Bernal and expect him to take his place back at the table reserved for champions.

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