Wednesday 21 August 2019

Bernal becomes youngest Tour champ in 110 years

The Team Ineos rider celebrates on the podium. Photo: Michel Euler/AP Photo
The Team Ineos rider celebrates on the podium. Photo: Michel Euler/AP Photo

Tom Cary

Egan Bernal can go on to become one of the greatest riders the sport of cycling has ever known, according to the man he has succeeded as Tour de France champion.

Egan Bernal can go on to become one of the greatest riders the sport of cycling has ever known, according to the man he has succeeded as Tour de France champion.

Geraint Thomas crossed the finish line on a sun-drenched Champs-Elysees last night arm in arm with his 22-year-old Ineos team-mate, the race's youngest winner in 110 years.

And 12 months after becoming Wales's first Tour champion, Thomas warned Team Ineos's rivals that Colombia's first winner could now go on to destroy all records.

"I don't want to put pressure on the lad," Thomas said. "But he's 22. He's got 10 years in front of him. He could become one of the greatest ever.

Froomey (Chris Froome) is probably the best Grand Tour rider at the moment with his record and consistency, but I think Egan can be just as good or even improve.

Caleb Ewan prevails in the sprint to win the final stage of the race. Photo: Jeff Pachoud/AFP/Getty Images
Caleb Ewan prevails in the sprint to win the final stage of the race. Photo: Jeff Pachoud/AFP/Getty Images

"I was 20 when I did my first Tour and I was last-but-one and struggling. I was a track rider, not some guy from Colombia born to ride mountains. He certainly is. He's got an amazing future ahead."

Thomas, who confirmed his second place in the general classification, 1min 11sec behind Bernal, stood guard by his team-mate as they were swarmed by photographers beyond the finish line on the Champs-Elysees, which had turned even more yellow than usual for the Tour's final stage, with thousands of Colombian supporters descending on the French capital to celebrate Bernal's victory.

Thomas appeared to radio for team support as the Colombian shared an emotional embrace with his family and his girlfriend. "It's the best day of my life," Bernal's mother, Florites, said. "It's incredible what my son has achieved."

It was a beautiful end to what was a brilliant, closely-fought race. The final stage of the Tour is often criticised for being a meaningless procession, with the general classification already decided and the main protagonists declining to race each other out of convention.

Yellow fever: Egan Bernal cruises along the Champs-Elysees to Tour de France glory. Photo: Anne-Christine Poujoulat/AFP/Getty Images
Yellow fever: Egan Bernal cruises along the Champs-Elysees to Tour de France glory. Photo: Anne-Christine Poujoulat/AFP/Getty Images

But when the weather is as glorious as it was last night - a stark contrast to the hail and mudslides which ruined the final two days in the Alps - and Paris looks as beautiful as it did, with the sun glinting through the Arc de Triomphe, it is difficult to find fault with this tradition.

There was a great final sprint, too, with Australian Caleb Ewan showing bravery and power in equal measure to come around the outside and beat Dylan Groenewegen (Ned/Jumbo-Visma) and -Niccolo Bonifazio (ITA/Total Direct Energie).

The day, though, belonged to Bernal who looked emotional as he sung Colombia's national anthem on the victory podium. Just 22, he looks even younger.

But when he proceeded to conduct his victory speech in English, Italian, Spanish and French, you realised he is old beyond his years.

"I should say thank you to my team," Bernal said. "Thank you G [Thomas] for the opportunity and all the team for the support. Today I am the happiest guy in the world. I just won the Tour de France.

"I haven't yet managed to process it. It's the most beautiful race in the world. Everyone in Colombia is going to be happy."

As will his boss be. Ineos owner Jim Ratcliffe bought the team three months ago. Now he is celebrating a one-two in the biggest race, the team's seventh in the past eight years.

Thomas warned Ineos's rivals they could be stronger next year, particularly if Froome can make a full recovery from his recent crash.

"If all three of us are there on the start line, we'll have some questions about leadership," Thomas said (© Daily Telegraph)

Telegraph.co.uk

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