July 29 th 2019 - 18:03
There was probably no better ending to the celebrations of the 100 years of the yellow jersey than the youngest ever to wear it in Paris and start a new era in the chronicle of the Tour de France. Egan Bernal, 22, also made history for becoming the first Colombian to win the overall classification and please a cycling mad country.
“This is not only my triumph, it’s the triumph of a whole country”, Bernal claimed on the Champs-Élysées after sharing his happiness with his girlfriend Xiomara, his mother Flor, his father German and his younger brother Ronald in a touching moment live on TV worldwide. Known for being very polite and grateful, the winner of the 106th Tour de France didn’t forget to thank the two other countries that made him a champion: France for organizing such a wonderful event and Italy for having welcomed and nurtured him right after he got the bronze medal at the world championship for mountain biking in the junior ranks in Andorra – where he’s now based during his European campaigns.
Bernal’s cycling career is absolutely extraordinary. Riders don’t normally turn pro at the age of 18. Belgian prodigy Remco Evenepoel did it with Deceuninck-Quick Step this year but he was a double world champion for road racing and time trialing. Bernal almost hadn’t raced on the road at all but started the 2016 season with the top professionals, finished in the top 20 overall of every stage race he did: La Méditerranéenne in February (18th), the Coppi & Bartali week (17th) in March, the Giro del Trentino (16th) in April. At the second one, he heard his sport director instructing via radio: “Whoever has good legs attacks now”. He did and dropped Mikel Landa off his wheel. He couldn’t believe what he was doing. “Landa? Landa from Team Sky? Landa who is going to race the Giro?”, he said to himself, incredulous.
A champion was born and he’d only confirm what kind of rider he was, fourth of the Tour de l’Avenir that year before winning it twelve months later. By then, he had already been acquired by Team Sky who bought out his 4-year contract from Androni Giocattoli in the middle of his term [which is pretty unusual in cycling]. Before him, no one had won Paris-Nice, Tour de Suisse and Tour de France the same year but he wasn’t meant to. Up to col de Turini in “The Race to The Sun”, it became clear that Nairo Quintana’s famous #sueñoamarillo (yellow dream) would vanish and Bernal would eventually become the first Colombian Tour de France winner, but the Bogotá native was set to lead Team Ineos at the Giro d’Italia. A crash at training in Andorra one week before the Corsa Rosa put him on another direction to ride the Tour de Suisse prior to the Tour de France. Chris Froome’s accident during the Dauphiné made him a co-captain of Team Ineos for the Tour along with Geraint Thomas who went down three times during the Grande Boucle after abandoning the Tour de Suisse in another fall.
Bernal had no problem this time around. Only the time trial in Pau (22nd and 1’36’’ down on Julian Alaphilippe) didn’t turn to his advantage. He crested alone in the lead the highest summit of the Tour – the col d’Iseran at 2770 metres of altitude, approximately the same as Zipaquirá, the city he hails from in Colombia, made famous by a salt cathedral and novelist Gabriel García Márquez, the 1982 Nobel Prize in Literature and author of One Hundred Years of Solitude [interestingly, Bernal soloed in the mountains to close the chapter of one hundred years of the yellow jersey].
Stage 19 in which he seized the reins of the overall classification, taking over from Alaphilippe, was shortened due to a storm, the road to Tignes being impassable because of huge amounts of hail and mass of rubble, but his reign might be a long one. In an interview with French monthly Vélo Magazine during the 2017 Le Tour de Langkawi in Malaysia, he declared: “I don’t know if I’ll have the level to a win a Tour, a Giro or a Vuelta. If my destiny as a cyclist is to carry the caramañolas (bottles) for my team-mates, I want to become the best caramañolas-carrier in the world. I simply want to be the best version of myself.”
He’s the best version the 100-year old yellow jersey.