The day belonged to Jonas Vingegaard on stage 5 of the Critérium du Dauphiné, but Egan Bernal was able to draw encouragement from his performance as he builds towards a long-awaited return to the Tour de France.
After losing more than two minutes to Vingegaard in Wednesday’s 31km time trial, Bernal looked rather more comfortable on the road to Salins-les-Bains on stage 5, attacking from the chasing group the formed behind the day’s winner Vingegaard on the run-in to the finish.
Bernal was soon recaptured, but he finished with day 11th on the stage from the group that came in 31 seconds behind Vingegaard.
“I think we knew before the time trial that the result would be not the best,” Bernal told ITV. “I haven’t been able to do good efforts [on the time trial bike] in training so for sure we had to be realistic. Today, I’m actually a bit surprised to be in the front, but I had good feelings.”
Bernal confessed that he hadn’t quite trusted those sensations on the category 2 climb of the Côte de Thésy, which served as the springboard for Vingegaard’s race-winning move. When Bernal saw his former teammate Richard Carapaz (EF Education-EasyPost) attack at the base of the climb, he opted not to follow.
“Maybe I was missing a bit of confidence because I was there and I was feeling good, but I thought, ‘This is maybe not my rhythm’ when they attacked,” Bernal said. “I was in the front and I saw them, but I was a bit afraid to go across and maybe explode.
“I think I did well, but this is something new again for me, to be in the front with the favourites. I think everything is new for me, but I should be happy with the performance so far.”
Vingegaard would forge clear on the climb, but Bernal was part of the group that swept up Carapaz on the 14km run to the finish in Salins-les-Bains. Given the lack of cohesion in the chasing group, Bernal made a brief lone attempt to bridge across before eventually rolling home with Ben O’Connor, Julian Alaphilippe et al.
“Sometimes you need to try, you never know,” said Bernal, who now lies 19th overall, 3:06 behind the maillot jaune Vingegaard. “When the climb finished, I was with something in the legs and I said, ‘Come on, I have to try.’ I saw there was a lack of cooperation in the front, so I said I would go. In the final they caught me of course but I think it was a good try at least.”
Bernal missed most of last season after sustaining severe injuries in an horrific training crash in January 2022, and his 2023 campaign has also been blighted by injury and ill fortune.
The Colombian abandoned the Vuelta a San Juan with a knee injury, and he was later forced out of the Volta a Catalunya by a crash on the penultimate day. Bernal went on to place 8th overall at both the Tour de Romandie and the Tour de Hongrie, though he was also a faller on the opening day in Hungary.
Earlier in the season, Ineos Grenadiers manager Rod Ellingworth indicated that Daniel Martínez would lead the team’s general classification challenge at the Tour, while Tom Pidcock will also look to shine in July.
While Bernal is aiming to return to the Tour for the first time since 2020, when his title defence was ruined by a back injury, he acknowledged earlier in the week that his summer programme was contingent on how he came through the Dauphiné. “It depends how the race goes,” he told FloBikes.
The Dauphiné continues with a testing finale at Crest-Voland on Friday ahead of a mountainous weekend doubleheader.