Bernal paints the Arc de Triomphe yellow, blue and red
Colombian flags on the Col du Galibier was the title of my piece on Friday when, Nairo Quintana won the stage and Egan Bernal sneaked into second place in the overall standings. From that moment on, Bernal was the clear favourite, because that left two mountain stages to go and it was clear that Julian Alaphilippe would lose his grip on the leadership in the mountain passes in stages 19 and 20. And neither was he about to attack his own team. So Egan Bernal, or El Gran Bernal as he might appropriately be called, was proclaimed winner of the Tour de France yesterday and became the first Colombian to win the event. A grimpeur par excellence – reminiscent of the great mountain climbers of 60 years ago, when Federico Martín Bahamontes became the first Spaniard to win the Tour.
Cycling back in rude health
Remembering the great joy that we felt on seeing Bahamontes win the Tour in ‘59, it’s easy to imagine how people must be feeling right now in Colombia. I’ll bet they’re elated at Bernal’s triumph, the youngest Tour winner during the post-war years. It’s good news that a Colombian has won – let me explain why. They burst onto the European cycling scene a few years ago, it was the perfect stage for them to develop and hone their natural ability. Then EPO was discovered; a hormone which anyone could take. All of a sudden natural talent became meaningless and the Colombians gradually faded into the background. Now they’re back, and that’s a sign that cycling is healthy once more. The war against doping is being won.
The future is bright for Bernal
A great future is opening up before Bernal. I had a feeling that out of the all of the participants in this year’s Tour, he was the only one who really had the possibility of making it a legendary race. Jacques Anquetil won his first Tour when he was just 23 and was considered a prodigy in the making at the time, a reputation which he would go on to confirm. Bernal has won it aged 22, and in a team who had their hopes pinned on someone else, and whose services were used in a large part of the race. Paris applauded him yesterday, even though his achievement came at the expense of Alaphilippe, who they dreamed might become the first home rider to win in over three decades. It’s been 34 years since the last Frenchman won the Tour, but France pampered Bernal as if he was one of their own and that was a wonderful sight to see.