Ineos Grenadiers have confirmed that Egan Bernal will make his European season debut at the Volta a Catalunya next week, despite organisers of the Settimana Coppi e Bartali having already announced that the Colombian would be starting their race.
In a press release issued by GS Emilia on Monday, Bernal was listed among the marquee names set to race the five-day stage race, which runs from March 21-25. However, Ineos announced on Tuesday afternoon that the 26-year-old would instead head up their squad for the fifth WorldTour stage race of the season in Spain on March 20-26.
Bernal was last in action at the Vuelta a San Juan in January, taking a promising fourth place on the Alto Colorado summit finish before being forced to abandon on the penultimate stage due to knee pain.
He went on to skip the Colombian National Championships, the Vuelta a Andalucía, and Paris-Nice as a result, with either Coppi e Bartali or Catalunya hosting his return to racing.
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Ineos Grenadiers team manager Rod Ellingworth confirmed to Cyclingnews last week that Bernal would return to racing in late March, either at the Volta a Catalunya and the Settimana Internazionale Coppi e Bartali. The Italian race appears to be the preferred option for Bernal via a more gradual return to racing.
Bernal stayed in Colombia in March and underwent treatment at home. He recently suggested on Instagram that he spent two weeks away from serious road training but has been back in full training for several days.
Now, after an apparent mixup on behalf of the organisers of the Italian race, Bernal is now confirmed to be making his career debut at Catalunya.
He’ll be joined at the week-long race by Geraint Thomas, who continues his build-up to the Giro d’Italia in his first race since the Tour Down Under. Ethan Hayter also returns to racing following a broken collarbone suffered at the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race, while Jonathan Castroviejo, Luke Plapp, Salvatore Puccio, and Ben Tulett round out the roster.
At Catalunya, Bernal and his teammates will be taking on a stronger field than is present at the 1.1-rated Coppi e Bartali race, with world champion Remco Evenepoel (Soudal-QuickStep), Mikel Landa (Bahrain Victorious), Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma), Richard Carapaz (EF Education-EasyPost), and UAE Team Emirates pair João Almeida and Adam Yates all lining up for the start in Sant Feliu de Guíxols.
Three tough mountain stages to Vallter, La Molina and Lo Port lie in wait for the GC hopefuls, while the race concludes with its traditional closer at Montjuïc Park in Barcelona.
Bernal missed most of the 2022 season due to the life-threatening training crash last January, which left him with a fractured vertebra, right femur and patella, and a long rehabilitation period. He returned to racing at the Tour of Denmark last August and spent the winter preparing for a full season of racing in 2023.
“He’s obviously been a bit frustrated but we’re supporting him,” Ellingworth told Cyclingnews.
“It’s been reported that he’s had a knee niggle, which has nothing to do with the crash or the accident from last year. Egan’s eager to race but often with these guys, you’ve got to hold him back.”
Bernal’s injuries have left Ineos Grenadiers without a true 2023 Tour de France contender.
Geraint Thomas stepped up last year to finish third at the Tour de France behind Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) and Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates), but the veteran Welshman will target the Giro d’Italia this year in what could be the final season of his long career.
“I don’t think it’s possible to win the Tour all the time,” Ellingworth conceded with honesty, naming Dani Martínez and Carlos Rodriguez as their possible Tour de France leaders for this summer.
“If Egan was fit enough, why would you not take him to the Tour for his experience and for the help he can give the team? The door’s completely wide open and the Tour is still four months away.”
We’re excited to be back racing @VoltaCatalunya next week 👊Here’s our lineup for #VoltaCatalunya102 👇 pic.twitter.com/Vnh6uRTPAdMarch 14, 2023