In the middle of Sunday afternoon in Spain from the La Sabana university clinic, in Chía, Colombia, a photo appears. In it, Egan Bernal, standing upright on two legs that stick out, light, very thin, from gray shorts, and ending in white socks and blue trainers with red soles. He is flanked to the right and left, four on one side, three on the other by seven people, two women and five men. The white coats they wear, and one of the women’s white stockings, allow us to assume that they are part of the medical team at the hospital where Bernal has spent the last 14 days, ten of them in an ICU, since he was admitted transported by an accelerated ambulance and swarming, on January 24, a few minutes after crashing while pedaling his time trial bike at full speed into the back of a bus that had just stopped in front of him.
Colombia and the world contemplate that photograph. The messages soon saturate the networks. The photo is no longer a photo but a picture of hope, the good that rises above evil; the realization that Egan, a farmer from Zipaquirá turned cyclist, is a predestined man who floats above human miseries, so typical of him, and the photo, Egan standing just a week after his shattered body was repaired in several eternal surgeries –the left patella, and you can see the knee is still swollen and a little swollen, and some small bumps come out of it, the metal pieces that compress the crumbling bone; the femur, two vertebrae that compressed the spinal cord in the thoracic region, two cervical vertebrae, the mouth and teeth, broken ribs that dig into the lungs and cause a pneumothorax– is living proof that he is stronger than his destiny, as the doctor who attended her mother’s pregnancy already foresaw and recommended that she name him Egan, the hero who dominates fire, who dominates destiny. That story spread like wildfire when Egan dominated the Iseran and all his rivals and the Dolomites and the snow. Now that he has defeated death, the hospital photograph is the new legend. No one doubts that he will also overcome all obstacles and will once again be the cycling champion that he excites.
And he feels that way.
“Life changed in a second.” Images recorded with a mobile. Egan speaks a few minutes after a photo. He is sitting in a wheelchair. Next to him, one of the medical officers of La Sabana. Egan turns to him. He wants to tell her that without his hospital he wouldn’t be alive. He tells everyone. He narrates his resurrection. He remembers how the accident happened to him between Tocancipá, near his Zipaquirá, in Gachancipá, on the road to Tunja, and how close he was to La Sabana Clinic, Opus Dei’s private center, one of the best in all of Colombia. “I was preparing the Tour de France on the time trial bike and the next second I was fighting for my life,” continues the cyclist who, at the age of 25, has already won a Tour and a Giro, and is the only one who fears the King Tadej Pogacar, the Slovenian who has won the last two Tours but has not yet had to face a full Egan to achieve his victories. “But, the truth is, everything coincided to find good professionals. If that is not crossed, the story would be different. I must thank you for allowing me to have a second chance. It is a rebirth, the fact of being alive”.
With extreme simplicity, Bernal, heir to the Indomitable Zipa, Efraín Forero, the first cycling idol of his Zipaquirá, the winner of the first Vuelta a Colombia, speaks as the martyrs would speak, with the simplicity of a biblical narrator. He talks about the value of the pain that in the hospital they were trying to mitigate with the strongest painkillers, and they couldn’t get rid of it. “And these days when I was in pain, he told me, ‘well, at least I feel pain, at least I feel something,’ and that’s thanks to you,” he tells the doctors and nurses, gesturing with his right hand, and in her two fingers are splinted. “Now comes a long process and everything, but I think I’ve already done the hard work here. Thank you very much and my respects for what you do. Thank you very much for giving me a second chance.”
Shortly after, Egan sends a new photo. He is sitting in an armchair in his house. He is surrounded by friends, his partner, Mafe, his mother, Flor, other cyclists, and a masseur from his Ineos and his trainer, Xabier Artetxe. His team to return, to restart his long process towards the Tour, hope. And he probably won’t make it to 2022, so close, less than five months away, but don’t let anyone erase him from the Tour of 23. That’s how the new legend of Egan wants it, who came back from the dead. Like Kim Novak, like the Nairo who was reborn after the evil of the dead, the childhood illness that kept him bedridden for months. The cult of him takes another dimension.
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.