This year the stars have aligned to make a long Colombian yellow dream come true as Egan Bernal wears the yellow jersey in Paris.
Widely seen as one of the main favourites, Egan has lived up to all expectations and won this Tour de France fair and square.
The words of Ineos director, Dave Brailsford: “Fortune favours the brave,” sum up how Egan won this Tour very nicely. He stayed alert and was supported by a very strong team – then on the penultimate climb of stage 19, Egan made his decisive attack. With Geraint Thomas, his Team Ineos team-mate, he crested the summit one minute before the group. Alaphillipe, in the yellow jersey, had already cracked and was further down. Little did they know that was basically the end of racing.
During the descent all meteorological hell broke loose. There was a short but intensive downpour with a hailstorm that made the final climb unpassable. The organisers rightly decided to call an end to the stage and take the times from the penultimate summit.
Egan has been a two-wheeled prodigy since a very young age, winning many mountain bike competitions. He took two consecutive bronze medals in the 2014 and 2015 Mountain Bike World Championships. Then, Gianni Savio and his team Androni Giocattoli-Sidermec signed a contract with the Colombian prodigy.
Even before his first big win in the 2017 Tour L’Avenir, sports newspaper Marca had spotted his potential, running with the headline “The beast is coming” back in 2016. He become the hottest property on the market and was finally signed by the team with the biggest budget of all at the time, Team Sky.
His rise has been astronomical. He’s already won several prestigious races before this Tour de France and it’s scary to think of what he might be capable of in the years to come. It seems he will enjoy a well deserved quieter second part of this season.
If you go to Zipaquira you’ll find a big mural of Egan Bernal wearing the white jersey, in the neighbourhood of San Carlos. The local community and its artists didn’t want to raise expectations too high, preferring to play it safe with only the mountain classification. Now they will have to repaint it because the “sueño amarillo” has been fulfilled.
Colombia’s cycling DNA
It all started with Martín Emilio Rodríguez, who was the first Colombian to take part in the Tour de France in 1975. Then came the 80s, which was a very successful decade for Colombian cycling – with the outstanding figures of Lucho Herrera (polka dot jersey winner in 1985 and 1987) and Fabio Parra, who stood on the lowest step of the pódium in Paris in 1990. Plus of course the participation of the Colombian team of Colombia-Pilas Varta.
Colombian riders were less successful in the 90s and 2000s but Víctor Hugo Peña did get to wear the yellow jersey for three days, a first in tour history for Colombia. Santiago Botero won the mountain classification in 2000 and Mauricio Soler won the polka-dot jersey in 2007.
But now Bernal’s victory is the crowning glory for what is arguably a golden era in Colombian cycling. It all started with Sergio Luis Henao and Nairo Quintana in the 2013 Tour de France, when the diminutive climber from Boyacá won white jersey for the best young rider. More surprisingly he finished second on the podium, a feat he repeated in 2015 – as well as reaching third place the following year.
Colombia took another second place in 2017, however it felt like Rigoberto Urán was never going to beat the invincible Froome. But 2019 is a different story. Sceptics may talk about the ‘ifs’. What if Chris Froome or Tom Dumoulin had participated? What if Pinot hadn’t injured himself? What if Geraint Thomas hadn’t had so many mishaps during his race preparations and hadn’t fractured his clavicle just before the Giro d’Italia? What if stage 19 and 20 hadn’t been shortened?
But in the end, luck is always an important part of a competition that is so complex, so physically and mentally demanding that you can lose everything in a split of a second.
And whatever the naysayers may think, the fact is that Egan Bernal is the first ever Colombian to win the yellow jersey in Paris. And that feat will never be forgotten.