With the Champs-Elysées appropriately bathed in the yellow of a golden sunset, a vintage Tour de France crowned a champion of unusually young age: 22-year-old Egan Bernal, the first South American to conquer the ultimate cycling event.
“I can not believe it. It is just amazing. Sorry. I have no words, ”Bernal said. “I still don’t understand what is happening to me.”
The youngest champion in the post-WWII era, the slimmer Colombian with a killer instinct on the road, proved himself the strongest of the 176 strongmen who took the start in Brussels, Belgium, on July 6 in his The 3,366-kilometer (2,092-mile) odyssey that delivered the most fascinating and drama-filled Tour in decades and a new cycling superstar in training in Bernal.
Riding a yellow bike, and driven by the Colombian fans who were celebrating even before he accelerated on the famous avenue, Bernal crossed the line with his teammate Geraint Thomas, the 2018 champion who finished second this year. Steven Kruijswijk completed what Tour organizers described as the closest podium in 116 years of race history, with just one minute and 31 seconds separating first place from third after three weeks of competition.
The 21st and final stage was won in the final sprint over the Champs Elysees by Australian Caleb Ewan, the dominant sprinter on this Tour with three stages won. In keeping with the tradition of the race on its final day, the 155 cyclists who survived the Tour rode at a pedestrian pace and in a jubilant atmosphere before entering the Champs Elysees. Bernal chatted with French rival Julian Alaphilippe and raised his champagne glass as he rolled.
The sunset turned the avenue golden as Bernal and the group of competitors accelerated on its cobblestones towards the finish line, where the young Colombian surrendered himself to the arms of his family.
Speaking in French before the start, Bernal thanked “France for organizing the most beautiful race in the world, and the most beautiful victory of my life.”
As Colombia celebrated its new national hero, the millions of French fans who lined the route across eastern, central and southern France, and high up in the light air of the Pyrenees and the Alps, experienced a Bittersweet tour.
First, their hearts soared with the fabulous race by French cyclists Alaphilippe, who wore the symbolic yellow jersey for 14 days, and Thibaut Pinot, who won the first of seven climbs over 2,000 meters (6,500 feet) by the largest margin. in the history of the Tour.
But joy turned to regret when the chances of Alaphilippe and Pinot becoming the first French winners since 1985 was cruelly thwarted just two days before the grand finale in Paris, in an epic 19 stage where Mother Nature turned into a unwanted guest at the party. A powerful barrage of torrential rain and hail cut off the Tour route just as Bernal snatched the lead of the competition from Alaphilippe, who clung to him like a child to his favorite toy.
“Julian Alaphilippe made us dream,” said Celestin Simon, a Parisian who cheered for his hero on the Champs Elysees with a pointed hat in the colors of the French flag, blue, white and red. “Unfortunately, there is no victory in the end.”
Alaphilippe, more than anyone, first lit and then fanned what will be long remembered as a Fireworks Tour. With his goatee and ‘can’t catch up’ attacks that rivals couldn’t match, Alaphilippe embodied ‘style’, the old guard class so cherished by Tour fans in his 116 years.
Alaphilippe’s company first put him in the yellow jersey on stage 3 and then, after losing the lead on stage 6, he got the jersey back on stage 8, which he held throughout the Pyrenees and up to the Alps. .
And there was Bernal, who grew up in the altitude of Colombia and in the thin air of home; struck and put Colombia in abduction.
“When I saw that he won, I said: ‘I need to go with my music to support him,” said Colombian clarinet fan Sebastián Cortés, who traveled from Strasbourg in eastern France to celebrate Sunday on the Champs Elysees.
Bernal flew to the highest peak on the Tour, the dizzying Iseran Pass at 2,770 meters (9,088-feet) above sea level, demolishing what was left of Alaphilippe’s lead on stage 19 and building his own considerable lead.
The clock was then stopped, with Bernal far ahead, when the hailstorm surprisingly covered the route with ice, amid fears that riders on wheels barely wider than their thumbs could slip on the alpine decor of rocks and ravines.
Compounding France’s misery, Pinot abandoned the race in tears, limping from a tear in his left thigh.
And that was it. The Tour that was leading towards a grand finale, instead reached the last stage resolved. The landslides also truncated the last stage in the Alps, the 20th, which still proved too long for the then exhausted Alaphilippe, who slipped from the podium entirely, despite receiving words of encouragement in a phone call the night before. of French President Emmanuel Macron.
Thomas used the last Alpine summit to secure second place in Paris, giving the Ineos team 1-2 on the podium with Bernal. Third place Steven Kruijswijk, a Dutchman who ‘Sir Constancy, managed the feat of being totally irrelevant for three weeks, while Alaphilippe, Pinot, Bernal and others made noise. Very remarkable is that none of the four cyclists in the first places won a stage. Alaphilippe, fifth overall, won two.
“I have left my skin on the road these last few weeks,” Alaphilippe told the French sports newspaper L’Equipe.
But instead of a blue, white, and red celebration, Paris was painted in the red, blue, and yellow of Colombia.
Especially yellow. AP