Cycling: Ineos optimistic as Egan Bernal nurses bad back ahead of Tour de France defence

Egan Bernal of Team Ineos posing for the camera during the third stage of the Criterium du Dauphine race on Aug 14, 2020.
Egan Bernal of Team Ineos posing for the camera during the third stage of the Criterium du Dauphine race on Aug 14, 2020.PHOTO: AFP

UGINE, France (AFP) - Egan Bernal withdrew on Saturday (Aug 15) from the Criterium du Dauphine as a precaution due to a back injury, but his Ineos team is confident the Colombian will be on the Tour de France starting line in Nice at the end of the month when he begins the defence of his title.

Ineos leader Bernal was in seventh place trailing Primoz Roglic by 31 seconds, with this year's Tour de France due to start Aug 29, when he pulled out of the final two Dauphine stages.

"He rode back to the hotel and he could have done the stage today for sure," Ineos sports director Gabriel Rasch said after Saturday's fourth stage from Ugine to Megeve.

"He had a back injury that's he's had before, so we wanted to make sure that we had enough time between here and the start of the Tour to treat it."

Geraint Thomas, winner of the Tour in 2018, said he did not foresee a "major issue" for Bernal after revealing the reason for his Ineos teammate's withdrawal from the tune-up race.

"He's got a bit of a bad back and the best thing for him is to just take it easy," he said.

"It's such a short turn around to the Tour that it's important he gets it 100 per cent right and be good then. I don't think it's a major issue, it's just better to be on the side of caution."

With four-time Tour de France champion Chris Froome still fighting back to full fitness, and Thomas still getting up to speed, Bernal, 23, had been the clear leader of the British outfit here.

Ineos, formerly Team Sky, have won seven of the last eight editions of the Tour de France, masterminded by team principal and wily tactician Dave Brailsford.