Egan Bernal clinched victory in the Tour de France on Sunday, parading into Paris safely in the overall leader’s yellow jersey, becoming 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 Ineos rider completed the 21 stage, 3,409km (2,118 miles) marathon around France 1min 10sec ahead of 2018 champion and teammate Geraint Thomas.
Colombian spectators thronged the Champs Elysees to witness the traditional eight-lap finale, where Australia’s Caleb Ewan, also 22, won his third stage of the 2019 edition on the culminating mass bunch sprint.
The champion was welcomed by his younger brother Ronald, his parents and girlfriend, before embracing his teammates.
“I thank France for organising the best race in the world, and for organising my greatest victory,” Bernal said in French.
“This is the Tour, this is the Tour, there is nothing more important than the Tour de France and I want to take this jersey back to Colombia,” he said, switching back to Spanish.
The highest Tour in history, as it was billed, suited the 2019 champion Bernal, who grew up at 2600m altitude and who thrived on a course featuring seven mountain stages and five summit finishes, scampering away from his closest rivals in the rarefied oxygen that only suits some.
He had to weather a searing four-day heatwave 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 Friday when he clinched the overall lead from French hero, the daring Julian Alaphilippe who had set the thrilling tone of this Tour with a dashing 14 day tenure in yellow.
“It was an honour, it was my duty, it was unforgettable,” Alaphilippe said on Sunday after missing out on becoming France’s first winner of the Tour since Bernard Hinault in 1985.
He finally lost his lead after two of three Alpine stages where the final real action played out, before Bernal defended it Saturday on a long 33km climb to the Val Torrens ski-resort, itself shortened because of storms and mudslides.
On the traditional non-contested procession to Paris, the Ineos team were all wearing a yellow trim to their claret and black outfits, with even the team car sporting a yellow stripe to honour the eight-man team who had sacrificing personal gain for the Colombian’s title.