The Revenant Egan Bernal: Defying Death to Return to the Tour de France

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reviewed by Rory McAllister
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There’s something compelling about tales of human resilience; of bouncing back from the abyss and defying all odds.

This is the story of Egan Bernal, the prodigious cyclist whose shining career took a horrifying detour.

The zenith of his career arrived in 2019, when he reigned supreme to claim victory at the Tour de France. However, disaster struck in 2022, when a catastrophic accident nearly halted his shining career in its tracks.

But Bernal, a true champion, didn’t just survive the ordeal – he’s now back in the saddle, racing at the Tour de France 2023.

This is more than just a story about a cycling prodigy, it’s about the tenacity of the human spirit and the will to overcome adversity. Join us as we chronicle Bernal’s journey from a hospital bed in Colombia to the grueling slopes of the Tour de France.

Egan Bernal riding his bike in the yellow jersey at the Tour de France.
© A.S.O./Pauline Ballet

The Day Fate Altered The Course For Egan Bernal

The fateful event unfolded on January 24, 2022, in Colombia on a bustling highway between Bogotá and Bernal’s hometown, Zipaquirá.

Accompanied by several of his Ineos Grenadiers teammates, Bernal was out cycling in preparation for his upcoming races, which included the Tour de la Provence and the UAE Tour in February.

During this training ride, an inter-city bus pulled over to let passengers off. Bernal, riding at a significant speed in a time trial position, failed to notice the stationary bus in time to avoid a collision.

Despite his teammates‘ warnings, the deeply concentrated Bernal didn’t grasp the looming danger and crashed into the bus.

The impact was so powerful that it left a significant dent in the back of the bus, indicating the force and speed with which Bernal collided with the stationary vehicle.

Immediately after the collision, medical personnel arrived at the scene, thanks to a team staff member who was following the training ride.

Although he remained conscious, he had sustained serious injuries from the crash and was quickly transported to the Clínica de La Sabana, in Chía, a suburb of Bogotá, for urgent medical care.

On the medical side, Bernal’s injuries were severe enough to require two emergency operations.

The immediate aftermath painted a bleak picture, with Bernal sustaining multiple fractures to his neck, thorax, and leg.

His injuries were so critical that he faced a 95% chance of becoming paraplegic.

In an instant, the rising star of cycling turned into an injured athlete engaged in a fierce battle for his life and career.

He was rushed to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) due to the seriousness of his injuries. While medical officials stated that Bernal was conscious and showed movement in all his limbs, they also suggested that recovery would be a prolonged process.

One of the doctors even stated that it would be a miracle if Bernal could get back on his bike within a year.

The Arduous Journey To Recovery

The Colombian cyclist revealed that while he regularly posted pictures on social media depicting the positive aspects of his recovery, these images didn’t fully represent his experience, which included many agonizing nights and periods of inactivity.

Bernal’s injuries from the accident were extensive and involved twenty broken bones and two collapsed lungs. He required seven separate surgeries to address these injuries.

Despite these obstacles, Bernal managed to return to his road bike just two months after the accident.

He shared images of his recovery and training sessions on social media, showcasing him riding on Zwift and on the roads in Colombia.

Bernal stressed that his recovery process has been far from smooth. He expressed gratitude for the continuous support from his fans and acknowledged that this support has been a crucial source of motivation for him as he aimed to return to racing.

However, he didn’t rush his recovery and prioritized listening to his body to ensure he was in the best possible shape when he returned to competition.

Ineos Grenadiers, Bernal’s team, has been supportive and hasn’t pressured him about his return. Bernal appreciates this approach, stating that it has helped him feel more at ease about his recovery.

He also pointed out a shift in his priorities following his accident, stating that it allowed him to view life from a different perspective.

He now places more emphasis on well-being and spending time with loved ones.

The Comeback To Competitive Cycling

Testing the Waters

Egan Bernal’s journey back to the racing circuits started at the Tour of Denmark in August 2022, just seven months after his life-threatening crash. In the opening stage of the race, Bernal was back in action, setting the pace for the peloton.

Although he finished the stage in 109th position, the goal was not to achieve notable results but to regain his racing form and build up his endurance again. He then participated in the Tour of Germany.

However, he had to abandon both races during their final stages.

His last competition for the season was the one-day Coppa Sabatini, where he finished 28th. Bernal was scheduled to participate in the Memorial Pantani, which was canceled due to bad weather, and the CRO Race the following week.

He was also supposed to conclude the year at Il Lombardia on October 8th. He canceled these appearances and decided to return to Colombia to undergo a routine operation on his knee.

Fast forward to 2023, and we witnessed a significant improvement in Bernal’s performances.

He achieved top ten finishes in the Tour of Romandie and the Tour of Hungary, showing signs of returning to his previous form.

He appeared ready for the final phase of his preparation, which included the one-week WorldTour race Criterium du Dauphiné, an altitude training camp, and some rest.

The Final Preparation in The Dauphiné

Despite the intense challenges posed by the high mountain stages, Bernal was able to maintain a position in the main group for most of the race, finishing 18th on the last day, and securing his overall position in the competition.

Bernal finished 12th overall, six minutes and 44 seconds behind the leader Jonas Vingegaard.

This performance augured well for his preparation for the Tour de France, which was his main goal for the 2023 season.

Back To The Tour De France

The former Tour de France champion has made a comeback to the tour after a two-year break, following his abandonment of the race in 2020, skipping it in 2021, and missing the 2022 edition through his crash.

Bernal is grateful to be alive and to be part of the Tour squad again.

He aims to regain his former racing level and compete against top cyclists, and this ambition keeps him motivated daily.

He expressed his excitement at being back in the Tour and credited his selection for the tour by the Ineos Grenadiers team as a source of motivation. He believes his team is well-rounded, with young, talented riders like Tom Pidcock.

Ineos Grenadiers, a team that dominated the Tour de France for almost a decade, sees this year’s race as an opportunity for both Bernal and Pidcock to surprise audiences.

The team’s racing director, Rod Ellingworth, believes a podium finish is achievable. He praises Bernal’s recovery and his ambition to win the Tour again.

While he might not be at his winning level, he is not far off, and his determination and professionalism suggest he is going to perform well in the Tour.

The team approached this year’s Tour differently, not with a strong general classification leader but with enthusiasm and hope.

What We Can Expect From Egan Bernal

Bernal’s initial showings during the opening weekend are promising as he currently holds the 19th position, 37 seconds and 26 seconds behind the two prime contenders Tadej Pogacar and Jonas Vingegaard respectively.

Though his primary objective is to regain his winning form and compete at a respectable level, Bernal might just be a dark horse in this year’s Tour de France.

While the possibility of him donning the yellow jersey on the Champs-Élysées seems highly improbable in this two-player contest, he might have the necessary prowess and abilities to secure a place within the top 10.

Anything above that, such as a top 5 position or a podium spot, would be nothing short of astounding.

Whether Bernal will reclaim his former glory and once again don the yellow jersey is a question that only time will answer.

But one thing is certain, he is a testament to the resilience of the human spirit, a beacon of hope for others grappling with adversity, and an inspiration to all who follow his journey.

Egan Bernal embraces his wife after winning the 2019 Tour de France.
© A.S.O./Pauline Ballet

And now, we would like to hear from you.

What are your thoughts on Bernal’s extraordinary comeback?

Do you believe he can reach his previous heights, and more importantly, do you think he can once again conquer the Tour de France?

Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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Quentin's background in bike racing runs deep. In his youth, he won the prestigious junior Roc d'Azur MTB race before representing Belgium at the U17 European Championships in Graz, Austria. Shifting to road racing, he then competed in some of the biggest races on the junior calendar, including Gent-Wevelgem and the Tour of Flanders, before stepping up to race Liège-Bastogne-Liège and Paris-Roubaix as an U23. With a breakthrough into the cut-throat environment of professional racing just out of reach, Quentin decided to shift his focus to embrace bike racing as a passion rather than a career. Now writing for BikeTips, Quentin's experience provides invaluable insight into performance cycling - though he's always ready to embrace the fun side of the sport he loves too and share his passion with others.

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