NICE, France (Reuters) – Egan Bernal is ready to defend his Tour de France title as the sole leader of the Ineos Grenadiers team despite nagging back pain.
The Colombian pulled out of the Criterium du Dauphine earlier this month, citing back problems, but did not stop training.
“I still have a bit of back pain to be honest, but I’m much better than at the Dauhphine. I’m getting better and feeling better,” Bernal told a news conference on Friday.
“I worked very hard on the back to try to recover in the last week.”
Last year, Bernal started the Tour as co-leader with then defending champion Geraint Thomas.
Thomas and four-times champion Chris Froome were left out of the Tour squad this year because of a lack of form, with Giro d’Italia champion Richard Carapaz of Ecuador being called into the team.
Carapaz is an outstanding climber and proven grand tour rider, but he will be riding in support of the Colombian.
“Egan is the out-and-out leader, he deserves the right to be the leader, he won last year, he’s a brilliant rider, and we all know that he’s a great talent,” team principal Dave Brailsford said.
“We’ll start the race very much with Egan as the outright leader of the team and support him support him fully in that.”
The Tour de France starts on Saturday with a flat stage around Nice.
(Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Toby Davis)