Val Thorens (France), July 28 (IANS) Egan Bernal is poised to make history in more ways than one at this year’s Tour de France, with the 22-year-old set to become first-ever Colombian champion of Tour de France and the youngest winner of cycling’s most prestigious race in modern times.
Although Sunday’s processional final stage to Paris still remains, once Bernal (22 years, 196 days on July 28) passes the throng of fans along Champs-Elysees and reaches the finish line, he will become the youngest Tour champion since Francois Faber (22 years, 187 days) in 1909 and the third-youngest winner of all time.
The sport’s professionalism has taken a major leap since those early days, with Italy’s Felice Gimondi in 1965 and France’s Laurent Fignon in 1983 being the only cyclists under the age of 23 to have clinched the Tour de France title since it resumed after the World War II hiatus, reports Efe news.
Because of his tender age and a lack of expectations, Bernal was able to shield himself from the pressure that fell on the shoulders of his British teammate and 2018 Tour winner Geraint Thomas and make a decisive move in the Alps, gaining ground in Thursday’s Stage 18 and then taking the lead in Friday’s Stage 19.
Since that latter stage was cut short due to an ice storm, the times for the general classification were taken at the summit of the Col de l’Iseran mountain pass; that proved to be a big turning point because Bernal had easily outpaced the previous overall leader, France’s Julian Alaphilippe, on that climb.
After Bernal effectively wrapped up the Tour in Saturday’s Stage 20 from Albertville to Val Thorens, a stretch that also was shortened due to hailstorms, Team Ineos (formerly Team Sky) General Manager Dave Brailsford praised his young cyclist.
“We knew we had a group of older guys who were performing well, but we looked very hard to find the new generation and we decided that it was going to be Egan. We fought pretty hard to get him and he developed fantastically well,” Brailsford said.
Bernal is set to become the fourth cyclist to win the Tour as a member of that team after Bradley Wiggins (2012), Chris Froome (2013, 2015, 2016 and 2017) and Thomas (2018).
Unlike his predecessors, Bernal won the race by attacking at elevations of more than 2,000 meters (6,550 feet), an attitude atypical for a team known for riding defensively in the mountains.
The 2019 Tour was considered one of the most open in years because of the absence of Froome, who was unable to compete due to injuries suffered in a horrific crash in June.
Bernal, for his part, had been planning to compete in the Giro d’Italia this year but had to skip that race after breaking his collarbone in training in early May.
That proved to be a blessing in disguise, however, as it enabled him to focus on the Tour as Team Ineos co-leader along with Thomas, who is set to finish second in this year’s race.