Dave Brailsford’s Tour de France hopes are dealt major blow by back injury to Team Ineos talisman Egan Bernal
- Egan Bernal was withdrawn before penultimate stage of Criterium du Dauphine
- The 2019 Tour de France champion suffered a back injury on Saturday
- He has two weeks to recover, leaving Dave Brailsford with selection headache
Dave Brailsford’s all-conquering Tour de France team are in crisis after the man who looked certain to lead Team Ineos into this year’s Tour, Egan Bernal of Colombia, was forced out of his final warm-up race with a back injury.
Bernal, the 2019 Tour champion who was in seventh place overall before Saturday’s penultimate stage of the Criterium du Dauphine, failed to start the leg from Ugine to Megeve Altiport in the French Alps due to the back injury.
‘He’s got a bit of a bad back and the best thing for him is to just take it easy,’ said Welshman Geraint Thomas, Bernal’s Ineos team-mate, who finished second overall in last year’s Tour following his victory in the 2018 race.
Dave Brailsford’s Tour de France team are in crisis after Egan Bernal suffered a back injury
‘It’s such a short turnaround to the Tour that it’s important he gets it 100 per cent right and be good then. I don’t think it’s a major issue, it’s just better to be on the side of caution.
‘He’s had two races before this as well, so he’s got the racing that he needs. It’s just about making sure that everything is 100 per cent there and that there are no issues.’
The Tour de France leadership headaches that were expected to dog team boss Brailsford have already worsened, with Ineos struggling to settle on any one of their Grand Tour-winning trio as clear leader for the Tour, which is scheduled to start in Nice on August 29.
Team Ineos’ Colombian champion was forced out of his final warm-up on Saturday
Bernal now has only two weeks to recover, while Thomas himself also appears far short of the form that took him to the top of the podium in Paris in 2018 and Chris Froome, battling back from his life-threatening crash in June last year, remains a shadow of his former self.
‘It’s been a tough start,’ Thomas acknowledged. ‘Obviously I was hoping to be a bit better. The numbers are good, I just need to chip off another kilo or so and I’ll be perfect.’
While Bernal and Thomas still appear favourites to make the start line in Nice, Froome’s place remains uncertain, even though he describes himself as ‘optimistic’ of being selected. The four-time Tour winner has been way off the pace in the mountain stages of the races he has ridden since making his return, while rival Primoz Roglic of Slovenia and his Jumbo-Visma team have dominated and at times humiliated the once perfectly drilled Ineos team.
Brailsford is finding difficulty in recovering from death of team sports director, Nicolas Portal
A further issue for Brailsford, however, has been the loss of team sports director, Nicolas Portal, who died suddenly after a cardiac arrest in March. The charismatic Frenchman had steered Froome, Thomas and Bernal to their greatest successes and the team are clearly struggling to adjust to racing without him.
Yesterday’s penultimate stage of the Criterium du Dauphine was won by Lennard Kamna, of German team Bora-Hansgrohe, while Roglic retained his overall lead of the race and is now firm favourite to win the Tour next month.
In Bernal’s absence, both Thomas and Froome were dropped before the final climb as Michal Kwiatkowksi, seventh on the stage, proved the British team’s best finisher.