Egan Bernal is the first Colombian to win the Tour de France and at 22, the youngest in over a century. He claimed victory as darkness fell across Paris on Sunday.
The 22-year-old Bernal, a team Ineos rider finished in the main peloton in a stage won by Caleb Ewan in a frantic sprint finish along the Champs Elysees, the third victory on the race for the Australian.
“This is the Tour, this is the Tour, there is nothing more important than the Tour de France and I want to take this jersey back to Colombia,” Bernal said after completing the grueling 3,409 km three-week marathon in triumph.
Bernal’s journey from a humble upbringing has become a symbol in Colombia, a country that has produced many famed cyclists. In Bernal’s hometown of Zipaquira, hundreds came to the “Plaza of Hope” to watch the final stage of the Tour in Paris, beamed across a giant screen. A graffiti mural of the champion was unveiled in the town over a week ago.
Bernal, who spoke in English, Italian, Spanish and French, added: “I think I should say thank you to all my team, thank you ‘G’ [Thomas] for the opportunity and all the team for their support and belief in me.”
Dave Brailsford, the Team Ineos principal, said: “I don’t think he knows what’s hit him yet. I don’t think he has any idea what’s just happened to him. In sport, we lose way more than we win. As for him being the first ever Colombian, having been to Colombia and seen millions of people just when Egan won the Tour of Colombia, the place went crazy.
At 22, and third youngest winner in the history of the Tour, Bernal also claimed the best young rider classification, in addition to the yellow jersey. But despite his prowess in the mountain stages, Bernal also finished the Tour without a stage win, as did teammate Chris Froome in 2017.
Bernal is widely tipped to go on to further Grand Tour success after this breakthrough win for South American cycling, but Brailsford is wary of the impact stardom may have on the young Colombian.
“The big thing is that the status of his life will change and at a relatively young age,” he said. “He’s got all his 20s to adapt to that. I think it will go one way or another for him. Some carry on and get used to the world they live in and everything they have to deal with and other people don’t.
“A lot of the guys who became successful for us were older, late 20s, and the life-change came after they got used to life at a certain level. When it happens younger you adapt quicker so you grow up in a different world from some of the other guys. His agent I know very well and is close to him. He’s got a good network around him and his coach is really important now. So we need to sit down and have a plan.”