Egan Bernal was all smiles on Saturday before he embarked on the Route d’Occitanie as he prepares to defend his Tour de France title in three weeks’ time.
The 23-year-old was wearing the number one jersey ahead of his four-time Tour de France winning team-mate Chris Froome in the number two jersey.
It is the Colombian’s first race since returning to Europe from his native country following the sport’s coronavirus shutdown.
“I want to enjoy the feeling of racing again and at the same time sharpen my fitness for the Tour,” Bernal said. “The key thing is to have a good time. We are so happy to get involved in a race, see the other teams and all that.”
Ineos boast the last five winners of the Tour de France in their ranks with Froome in 2015-2017, Geraint Thomas in 2018 and Bernal in 2019.
“It went well but I’m a little tired, that’s for sure. The stage was hard, with a fast pace and it was pretty hot. It felt like a hard day, but a good one in terms of how my legs felt and for the training it gave us. All in all, I’m happy with the way I felt, but it’s going to take a few more races yet to get the right feeling for competition,” Bernal said at the finish of stage 1 in Occitanie.
“It’s a special feeling to be back racing in Europe, it’s been a long time for me. I think the last time was Lombardy last year. So it’s good to be back again, especially as it gives us the chance to get a measure of some of the teams we’ll be racing against for the rest of this year,” he added.
The Tour de France is scheduled to embark from Nice on 29 August and arrive in Paris 21 stages later on 20 September.