Fri, Aug 09, 2019 - Page 16 News List

Hometown rolls out hero’s welcome for Tour winner Bernal

Reuters, ZIPAQUIRA, Colombia

Cyclist Egan Bernal, the first Latin American to win the Tour de France, on Wednesday got a hero’s welcome from thousands of fans in his hometown of Zipaquira, Colombia.

The 22-year-old, the youngest rider to win the race in 110 years, promised a cheering crowd in the main square of the small Andean city that he would pursue further triumphs.

“I want to have my feet on the ground, to continue to work as I have been until now, to enjoy the bike and if some day we can win another Tour de France, we’ll try for a third. If we win the third, then a fourth and a fifth,” he said.

“This is like a drug, you win one and you want more and more,” said the climbing phenomenon, who gave Team Ineos — formerly Team Sky — their seventh title in the past eight editions of the Tour de France. “I want people to feel this triumph as their own.”

Bernal was last month crowned the winner after retaining the overall leader’s yellow jersey during the 21st and final stage, beating teammate and defending champion Geraint Thomas of Britain by 1 minute, 11 seconds.

Bernal started his training as a cyclist at age eight.

His former coach still trains young riders, who he has said idolize Bernal.

“He’s a superhero for many,” said mechanical engineer Jairo Sierra, 43, who drove from Bogota, the nearby capital, to attend the celebration, where attendees chanted: “Champion Egan, Champion!”

Waving a cyclist figurine that she fashioned out of yarn, 35-year-old Andrea Malaver said that Bernal had brought joy to many of her fellow Colombians.

“He’s an inspiration for all Colombians,” she said.

Colombian riders, accustomed to the thin air and steep slopes of the Andes, have a long, proud tradition of being competitive on the Tour.

Rigoberto Uran and Nairo Quintana also rode in this year’s race. Quintana, a Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a Espana champion, had finished runner-up in the Tour de France in 2013 and 2015.

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