2019 Tour de France winner Egan Bernal has said that time trial bikes are part of the fabric of professional cycling and should remain in the sport, despite former teammate Chris Froome’s calls for road bikes to be used instead in races against the clock due to safety concerns.
Bernal is currently rehabilitating at home in Colombia following a horrific training crash in January, when the 25-year-old crashed into the back of a parked bus while riding his time trial bike.
He suffered fractured vertebrae, a fractured right femur, fractured right patella, chest trauma, a punctured lung and several fractured ribs in the life-threatening collision, and doctors reportedly told him he had a 95 percent chance of becoming paraplegic.
The Ineos Grenadiers rider’s crash also sparked a debate in the pro peloton about the dangers of riding time trial bikes both in races and on public roads.
Four-time Tour winner and Bernal’s former teammate Chris Froome, who suffered his own career-threatening crash aboard a time trial bike while warming up at the 2019 Critérium du Dauphiné, made the case for banning TT bikes in professional racing, claiming that they “are not really meant to be ridden on the roads the way that we need to ride them in order to be ready”.
Speaking to the international media for the first time since his crash, Bernal told road.cc that he hadn’t read the British rider’s comments, but believes that time trial bikes should remain within professional cycling, despite being more dangerous than their road counterparts, as they contribute to the sport’s ‘spectacle’.
Bernal said: “At the time, when Froomey and the media were talking about it a lot, I wasn’t really in a fit state to be reading much of the media, so I haven’t seen much of what was actually said.
“But I think that the time trial bike is an aspect of cycling, and without it cycling wouldn’t be the same. And I say that knowing that I am not the best ‘chrono man, but I understand that it’s a part of the sport.
“Of course, it is more dangerous to ride the TT bike than the road bike. But time trialling is part of the spectacle of cycling and it’s something a lot of riders and fans like. So I think they should stay.”
Asked if the crash will affect how he rides his bike in the future, Bernal said: “I’ve only been back riding the bike for five days now, so I haven’t been in a situation where I’ve been going really fast. So until those kind of situations happen I’m not sure if I’ll be scared or not.
“Cycling has been something I’ve spent my whole life doing, it’s what moves me.
“I’ve always known that these kind of accidents can happen. But cycling is my passion, and until I’m back competing I’m not really sure how the crash will affect me.”
Earlier this week Bernal, who yesterday joined four thousand fans for a Zwift ride, posted photos and videos of his return to riding the bike on the roads, which he described on Instagram as “the happiest day of my life”.
“Fear was certainly not the first sensation I felt when I got back in the saddle,” he said. “Instead, it was pure happiness. It was the best day of my life.
“I’m already feeling a lot better. I’m really happy that I’m still alive, especially after being in such a serious accident. Things are slowly, little by little, getting better.
“I’m starting to feel like a cyclist again.”
The 25-year-old was emotional as he described how the crash has given him a new perspective on his life and career.
“I actually received an important lesson from this accident, so absurdly I'm actually thankful for having lived through this experience,” he said.
“The accident allowed me to see things from a different perspective. Before, I was only focused on cycling and being the best rider in the world. But the real priority in life is to feel good and be able to be with those who love us.
“When you are attached to a ventilator you feel fragile and vulnerable, only then do you really value in what you previously underestimated or took for granted.
“Now I send my strength to those who are suffering. In moments like what happened with Colbrelli [the Italian rider has been fitted with a defribilator after collapsing at the Volta a Catalunya], where it’s obviously a difficult situation to go through, having lots of energy and support from people really helps to get you through times like this.
“In situations like this that support is absolutely key, along with patience and an appreciation for life.
“Being forced to miss races can be traumatic, but it is more important to still be in this world, surrounded by the affection of family and friends. Sometimes we forget what really matters.”
The speed of Bernal’s recovery has astounded many observers, but the Colombian star (who is currently still using a cane to walk) insists that there is no pressure on him to return to racing before he is ready.
He said: “Being back on the bike after just a few months is more than anyone expected, but what everyone has to remember that you what you post on social media are the good, positive things. But I’ve had many painful nights and times where I can’t do much.
“So to be back on the bike, the energy from the fans has helped me so much. Having a whole country behind you, hoping and waiting that you’ll recover, is also a massive boost. I feel so motivated to come back, not just for me but for everyone.
“I don’t know when I’ll be able to compete – there’s no rush to decide yet. I just need to listen to my body and make sure that when I do come back that I’m in the best form I can be. But there’s no rush.
“The team has given me a lot of support. Everyone has told me to take my time and recover slowly. Dave Brailsford and Jim Ratcliffe have both messaged me regularly, telling me to take the time I need. It’s important that I don’t feel pressure and that’s made me feel calmer about everything.
“But I’m going to do everything I can to come back, not necessarily to win straight away – though that will be the goal at some point. But I will come back with more motivation to race than I ever have before. Just finishing a race again will be a success to me.”
Ryan joined road.cc as a news writer in December 2021. He has written about cycling and some ball-centric sports for various websites, newspapers, magazines and radio. Before returning to writing about cycling full-time, he completed a PhD in History and published a book and numerous academic articles on religion and politics in Victorian Britain and Ireland (though he remained committed to boring his university colleagues and students with endless cycling trivia). He can be found riding his bike very slowly through the Dromara Hills of Co. Down.