Tue, Jul 30, 2019 - Page 16 News List

Egan Bernal hails his ‘greatest victory’

PARIS TRIUMPH:The final stage was won in a hotly contested mass bunch sprint by Australian speed king Caleb Ewan, his third stage victory on his debut Tour

AFP, PARIS

Colombia’s Egan Bernal, right, is congratulated by second-placed Ineos teammate Geraint Thomas as he celebrates winning the 106th Tour de France in Paris on Sunday.

Photo: AFP

Egan Bernal on Sunday clinched victory in the Tour de France, parading into Paris safely in the overall leader’s maillot jaune to become the first Colombian winner of cycling’s greatest prize and its youngest in more than a century.

With the sun setting behind the Arc de Triomphe, the 22-year-old Team Ineos rider completed the 21-stage, 3,409km marathon around France 1 minute, 10 seconds ahead of reigning champion and teammate Geraint Thomas.

Colombian spectators thronged the Champs-Elysees to witness the traditional eight-lap finale. The champion was welcomed by his younger brother, Ronald, his parents and girlfriend, Xiomy Guerrero, before embracing his teammates.

“I thank France for organizing the best race in the world and for organizing my greatest victory,” Bernal said in French.

“I simply can’t believe I have won it,” said the tearful Bernal, before stepping onto the winners podium alongside Thomas and third-placed Dutch Team Jumbo-Visma rider Steven Kruijswijk.

Bernal placed his hand on his heart and sang along with the national anthem before addressing the massed crowds in four languages.

“I should say thanks to all my team, thank you G [Thomas] for the opportunity,” said the youngster in recognition of Thomas’ acceptance that Bernal was the better option for Ineos in the Alps. “Today I am the most happy guy in the world. I just won the Tour de France.”

“Vive la France. Vive la Colombie,” he said.

The stage itself was won in a hotly contested mass bunch sprint by Australian speed king Caleb Ewan, his third win on his debut Tour.

“This was the best one by far,” the Australian said.

The highest Tour in history, as it was billed, suited Bernal, who grew up at 2,600m altitude and who thrived on a course featuring seven mountain stages and five summit finishes, scampering away from his closest rivals.

He had to weather a searing four-day heat wave that saw runner-up Thomas wobble in Pau and was warned by a speeding motorbike when racing downhill at 100kph when a freak hail storm caused a mudslide ahead.

That was on Friday when he clinched the overall lead from French hero, the daring Julian Alaphilippe, who had set the thrilling tone of the Tour with a dashing 14-day tenure in yellow.

“It was an honor, it was my duty, it was unforgettable,” Alaphilippe said after missing out on becoming France’s first winner of the Tour since Bernard Hinault in 1985.

Alaphilppe won two stages, the first a rampage through the Champagne region that set the tone for the Tour, and the second a stunning time-trial win at Pau.

He was handed the combativity award for the most attacking rider and came fifth in the overall standings, and when stepping off the podium went over to his wheelchair-bound father and cried in his arms.

He finally lost his lead after two of three Alpine stages where the final real action played out, before Bernal defended it on Saturday on a long 33km climb to the Val Thorens ski resort, itself shortened because of storms and mudslides.

France also won the King of the Mountains jersey with Romain Bardet, who appeared early in the Tour to have flopped, but rallied to win the maillot a pois rouges.

Charismatic Slovak sprinter Peter Sagan won a record seventh maillot vert without adding to his 12 stage wins.

“That’s seven, maybe eight next year,” the three-time world champion said.

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