Bernal poised for breakthrough Tour de France win for Colombia

Just nine victory laps of the Champs-Élysées now stand between Egan Bernal (Team Ineos) and his breakthrough overall victory for Colombia and South America in the Tour de France.

Taking his first triumph in cycling's biggest bike race at 22 makes Bernal the youngest winner in post-war Tour de France history. It also sets him up as a critical reference point in the race for the foreseeable future.

Bernal is also the fourth rider to win the Tour for Team Sky/Ineos formation since 2012, after Brad Wiggins, Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas. The British team stretches their record of domination of the Tour even further - to seven triumphs in eight years.

Bernal's Tour de France triumph is the jewel in the crown of what has already been a massively successful year for the young Colombian, who also won Paris-Nice and the Tour de Suisse.

Victory in the Tour de France hasn't come without setbacks for both Bernal and Team Ineos, however. Ineos' much more muted presence in the Tour de France this year has been widely observed. On a personal level, Bernal had to bounce back from his crash and broken collarbone that he suffered just days before making his debut in the Giro d'Italia.

Bernal's lack of experience in the Grand Tours was so significant that it convinced some observers that he would not be able to win this July. And it's worth remembering, too, that the Colombian has spent less than two years in the WorldTour with Team Sky and just four years as a professional road racer.

All-in-all it's been a very steep learning curve for Bernal. But he has mastered it brilliantly. He told the media on Saturday evening that capturing the biggest prize on offer in professional cycling hasn't sunk in yet.

"I still can't believe it," Bernal said as he sat down for the traditional Tour winner's final press conference on Saturday evening. His family and friends were watching from the wings, and numerous Colombian journalists were visibly fizzing with national pride in the seats in front of him.

"I've still not managed to analyse it all. I need to get to the team hotel, have a shower and then sit down for half an hour and work it all out."

Bernal paid tribute to his family, starting by mentioning his girlfriend and his appreciation for her being with him through the sacrifices that becoming a top pro almost inevitably demand. He also had special words of thanks for his father, who regularly accompanies Bernal on his training rides in Colombia on a motorbike. "He's the only guy who knows all the kilometres I've put in, all the efforts I've had to make. It's really special to have them here."

Bernal's background

Taking his country's first win in the Tour de France is all the more remarkable given as recently as four years ago he was focussed on world-class junior mountain biking. He also confirmed that he had briefly thought about giving up cycling altogether and taking up journalism, before opting to go for a career in sport instead.

In 2016, he turned pro with Gianni Savio's Androni team and spent two years racing in Italy. He spoke about that period of his career in his press conference, saying how much he missed Italian icecream and his friends. Bernal then joined Team Sky in 2018.

Set to race the Giro d'Italia this May, a crash and broken collarbone wrecked his chances of racing in Italy's Grand Tour. But as he told journalists, "things happen for a reason," and in this case, missing out on the Giro morphed into an opportunity to race the Tour.

"I don't know if I believe in fate, but the only thing I know is that without crashing before the Giro, I wouldn't be in this position here. It would have been very difficult to do both.

"We'd been focussed on doing the Giro since last October. Even though there was a moment in that process that we thought about switching to the Tour, we then went back to our original plan and settled again for the Giro d'Italia," Bernal revealed.

"Then two hours after I crashed, I was with my trainer, and he was almost crying, and the pain from my broken collarbone was really bad. But then, right then, I asked him what my chances were of doing the Tour. As I said, things happen for a reason."

As for his country, Colombia, the wait for a first Tour de France win has proved to be way too long. Colombia's first trade team appeared in the Tour in 1983, and Colombia has long been a significant factor in pro racing. For Colombia, then, the moment when Bernal finally dons the yellow jersey for good on Sunday in Paris will be cause for a massive celebration.

Asked if he had a message for the Colombian people and if he was conscious of what this represented for his country, Bernal said he needed time to consider this point.

"Look, it's all happening so fast, I haven't had time for it all to sink in. These days on the race have been all about the routine of; wake up, go to the doctor to have my weight checked, get to the bus, race, come back, have massages and the physio, eat and sleep. I haven't had time for anything more.

"I have no idea what's happening in Colombia right now; I've no idea what's happening outside my team. I imagine they'll be very happy, because we've had no end of great racers, we've won the Vuelta and the Giro. We've had podiums on the Tour but something's always gone wrong with winning the Tour - until now - so I'm very proud, and I can't wait to bring the yellow jersey back home."

As for what he will do in the future, and whether he will finally make his debut in the Giro d'Italia and Vuelta a España, Bernal stated, "I don't know yet. I just want to cross the finish line in Paris first before thinking like that.

"But racing is like a drug, you're always thinking of the next race, and the one after that and the one after that.

"First, though, I want to finish off what I've done here, get the last stage out of the way and really win the Tour de France. Then we'll see."

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Alasdair Fotheringham

Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 bar one, as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. As well as working for Cyclingnews, he has also written for The IndependentThe GuardianProCycling, The Express and Reuters.