Egan Bernal had to settle for bronze at the Colombian National Championships road race, but the Ineos Grenadiers rider was heartened by his best result and performance since the life-threatening crash he suffered in training two years ago.
Alejandro Osorio (GW Erco Shimano) claimed the title with a long-range attack, and he withstood a spirited pursuit from Bernal and silver medallist Sergio Higuita (Bora-Hansgrohe), who closed to within four seconds by the finish in Tunja.
After finishing a distant sixth in the time trial in midweek, more than three minutes behind Daniel Martinez, Bernal bounced back with a fine display in Sunday’s road race. It marked his first podium finish in any race since he sealed overall victory at the 2021 Giro d’Italia.
“This means a lot for me,” Bernal told reporters in Colombia afterwards.
“We had worked to be as good as possible for these national championships. In the time trial, let’s say that we didn’t go like we wanted but I think that in the road race, I showed the level I really have.
“This gives me a lot of motivation for what’s coming up this season and it gives me a lot of desire to get back to the level I had before.”
In January 2022, Bernal suffered fractured vertebrae, a fractured femur, a fractured patella and a punctured lung in a training crash near Bogotá. He spent almost two weeks in an intensive care unit, but he remarkably returned to the peloton before the end of the that season.
Bernal completed both the Tour de France and Vuelta a España in 2023, but he also endured setbacks during the campaign, including a knee injury that forced him to miss last year’s Colombian Championships and a crash that forced him to abandon the Volta a Catalunya.
Speaking to Deportes RCN, Bernal confirmed that his display in Sunday’s race was his best since his career-altering crash of two years ago.
“To a certain extent, I almost felt nostalgic during the race, I felt like the Egan of before,” Bernal said.
“I said I was going to give everything: I didn’t care if I got dropped on a hill, I was doing all my turns flat out. That’s how I used to race, without fear, and I felt that way again.
“In the group, we understood each other very well, it was a great collaboration because nobody held anything back. We all went flat out, because the race was very fast.”
Bernal’s next test will come at next week’s Tour Colombia, where he is set to lead the Colombian national team. His rivals for the title will include Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and Richard Carapaz (EF Education-EasyPost).
“I have to keep my feet on the ground, of course, but the Colombian national championships is one of the hardest national championships,” Bernal said.
“It has one of the highest levels and this circuit was really hard, so you had to have good legs. I’m happy and I have a lot of desire to keep working. I’ve been working hard for the last two years to get back to this level and now I’ll keep going.”