He didn’t cross the line first, but Egan Bernal still ended the day acclaimed like a winner. Stage 3 of the Tour Colombia produced a high-altitude slugging match on the arduous circuit around Tunja, and Bernal withstood the blows as well as anybody. He landed a few, too, as he grew more daring in the closing kilometres.
Although Bernal ultimately had to settle for fifth on a stage won by Colombian champion Alejandro Osorio (GW Erco Shimano), his presence was still required on the podium afterwards.
The voting system for the daily Premio de la afición here is a nebulous one, but there were no complaints from the multitudes on Tunja’s Avenida Universitaria when Bernal was presented as the fans’ favourite for stage 3. A chant rose as he stepped onto the dais: “E-gan! E-gan! E-gan!”
The race ignited on the penultimate lap, and Bernal was to the fore every time the front group splintered and reformed thereafter, eventually joining the winning break of eight. Osorio and new yellow jersey Rodrigo Contreras (Nu Colombia) slipped away at the last to contest the stage honours, but Bernal came home just behind them with Rigoberto Urán and Ivan Sosa, gaining 11 seconds on the rest of the GC favourites.
“It was a very hard stage, and a very important one,” Bernal said when he reached the mixed zone afterwards. “It was really kicking off all day, there was a lot of nervousness and so everybody wanted to be in front, obviously. The last lap was really difficult and if you had a little more there, you could make the difference.”
Bernal initially preferred to follow as the winning move took shape, as though unsure of his ability to last the pace, but his turns on the front grew longer as the finish line drew nearer. A bronze medal at last month’s Colombian championships was Bernal’s first podium finish since his life-threatening training crash in January 2022, and his performance in Tunja on Thursday marked another step forward.
“Little by little, I’m gaining confidence,” Bernal said. “On a stage like today, you have to stay in front, you have to fight for your position all day to be up there in the final. That gives me confidence. Bit by bit, we’re recovering.”
Bernal is competing here for the Colombian national team, having been released for international duty by Ineos Grenadiers. Brandon Rivera, also of Ineos, is the only other WorldTour rider in the line-up, and Bernal explained that they couldn’t race with the same abandon as EF Education-EasyPost, who sent Richard Carapaz, Andrea Piccolo and Urán up the road at various points in the finale.
“I think EF have a very strong team with some riders at a high level, riders who go well at this altitude,” Bernal said. “As the national team, we have to be intelligent and choose our moments, but we have a good team. I think the younger lads did great work at the start, and in the final with Jhonatan Restrepo, Brandon and me, we were able to follow the moves. I didn’t win the stage, but I think I’m improving.”
Bernal now lies 12th in the overall standings, 30 seconds behind the yellow jersey Contreras, and 10 ahead of fellow favourites Carapaz and Nairo Quintana (Movistar). The race visits his native Zipaquirá on Friday, though it’s unlike that that the man who grew up in the barrio of Bolívar 93 will be the fore in his hometown. “It’s a flat stage, so I’ll be happy to finish in the peloton,” he said. “But a thousand things could happen, so you have to be careful.”
The real test will come on the penultimate day, of course, when the race climbs for the final 30km to the summit of the mighty Alto del Vino. “Today wasn’t a stage where you were going to win the race, but it was one where you could have lost it,” Bernal said. “Finishing up front today gives me more confidence for the Alto del Vino, but I think the differences there will be in minutes rather than in seconds.”