Colombia's Egan Bernal will defend his Tour title starting August 29

Saint-Affrique (France) (AFP) - Egan Bernal was all smiles Saturday before he embarked on the Route d’Occitanie stage race as he prepares to defend his Tour de France title in three weeks’ time.

The 23-year-old Ineos rider was wearing the number one jersey ahead of his four-time Tour de France winning teammate 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.”

British outfit 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.

Bernal is favourite to win the 2020 edition with the British bookmakers.

Thomas is signed up as a reserve at the Route d’Occitanie.

The Tour de France is scheduled to embark from Nice on August 29 and arrive in Paris 21 stages later on September 20.