Egan Bernal (Team Ineos) was welcomed home with his Tour de France yellow jersey in a huge celebration in his home town of Zipaquirá on Thursday, riding into the town square surrounded by security and greeted by some of the legends of Colombian cycling as well as Colombian cycling federation president Jorge Ovidio González.
The celebration drew hundreds if not thousands of fans in a city of about 130,000 residents, who watched as Bernal etched his name on the list of famous Colombian cyclists.
Bernal thanked the supporters for allowing him to dream of winning the Tour de France and advised his young fans to dream and have hope. "Let them be happy riding a bicycle and enjoy that suffering on the bike. Little results will matter if they're really happy."
He also thanked his family - his parents, brother and girlfriend, saying, "I always had a very good example in my parents, children dream and the truth is a very nice when a child says 'I want to win a Tour de France, I want to be like you'. It all starts from the family, you have to have support but little by little it gets much better. When a child does what he likes, he can continue in one way or another."
Bernal was slated to race the Giro d'Italia this year, but one week before the race he crashed and broke his collarbone. According to TeamIneos.com he immediately asked his coach Xabi Artetxe how many days until the Tour de France and turned his focus on it.
"It wasn't difficult to stay motivated after missing the Giro," Bernal said. "Mostly I was sad for my teammates, who had trained so hard to help me at the Giro. That was my first thought. But when I crashed I was in really good form and I said ‘Okay’, I knew I didn’t have much time to prepare for the Tour and I was starting with really good form. For the time I was off the bike I tried to stay focused with my routine. It worked."
Still in disbelief at winning the Tour de France, Bernal said he would still be happy to win something smaller and he still feels the same as he did before the Tour.
Starting the race as a co-leader with defending Geraint Thomas allowed Bernal to deflect some of the pressure heaped on the shoulders of Tour contenders by focusing on enjoying the race.
Before being feted in his home town, Bernal had already been greeted by throngs of Colombians in Paris and on the roads before the final stage.
"It was incredible to be out on the road in yellow," Bernal said. "The Colombians were everywhere. When I was on the podium in Paris there were almost more Colombians than French people! It is amazing to see a lot of Colombian flags. It is just really important to us. When you are climbing full gas and you can see a lot of Colombians and they are cheering you on in Spanish, it really gives you an extra boost.
Swipe or click through the gallery of Bernal's homecoming celebration.