PARIS: Egan Bernal will clinch victory in the Tour de France on Sunday as long as he avoids any last minute disaster on the twilight parade to Paris to become the first Colombian winner of cycling’s greatest prize and its youngest in more than a century.
The 22-year-old champion-in-waiting along with the other 155 men left standing after the gruelling three week 3,480 kilometre cycling odyssey will set off from Rambouillet on the largely ceremonial closing 21st stage at 1805 GMT.
Eight laps of the Champs-Elysees round off the iconic event with Bernal set to don the race winner’s yellow jersey with the sun going down behind the Arc de Triomphe at around 1930.
Bernal said he appreciated he had finally added his name to the Tour de France roll of honour when outgoing champion and Ineos teammate Geraint Thomas held out his hand at the end of Saturday’s stage.
“I realised it was over and I was going to win the Tour de France,” said the man topping the 2019 general classifications for this anniversary edition celebrating 100 years of the yellow jersey.
Bernal and Thomas crossed the winning line a few seconds ahead of their key rivals and smiled broadly at each other as they held hands in unity to mark the moment.
Thomas, who will take second overall with Dutch rider Steven Kruijswijk in third, believes this landmark triumph is the start of a golden future for his Ineos co-captain.
“I told Egan not to worry about the crying because all real men cry,” said Thomas.
“He’s an incredible talent and can dominate the race for years to come.
“It’s a one-two for Ineos so things worked out not that bad. I’m disappointed not to have won, I didn’t think last year Egan would be ready yet, but now I’m looking forward to a bit of downtime.”
“Today is about Egan. He is a really solid guy with a great team and good people around him.”
Bernal leads the Welshman by 1min 11sec overall and Jumbo-Visma’s Kruijswijk by 1min 31sec.
He said he was so nervous on Saturday’s climb to Val Thorens in the Alps that he counted down the kilometres on the way up.
“I still have to get to Paris but it’s incredible,” said Bernal who will become the Tour’s youngest winner since Francois Faber in 1909.
“I’m a little calmer now. I kept thinking 5km, 4km, 3km one less, one less to go each time as we came up the mountain.”
The stage itself was won by 2014 champion Vincenzo Nibali who broke from the main contenders late on to win by 17sec at the line where he raised his finger to his lips and to the sky.
– Sagan aiming for green jersey –
Ineos principal Dave Brailsford has masterminded seven Tour wins from the last eight editions with Bradley Wiggins, Chri Froome (four wins), Thomas and now with Bernal within a parade of the latest triumph.
Frenchman Julian Alaphilippe, who led for 14 days before cracking on Friday’s hail and landslide-hit stage, finished down the field to drop to fifth place overall.
The day’s ride, which was shortened to 59.5kms due to poor weather and more mudslides, embarked in cool conditions in 12 Celsius (53.6 Fahrenheit) from Albertville at 2,356m altitude.
Green jersey wearer Peter Sagan said he was delighted the race had been modified.
“Tomorrow is Paris and one for the sprinters, so let’s see, a win in Paris would be great,” said the Slovak gunning for the sprinter’s jersey for a record seventh time.
“It’s been a beautiful Tour,” he added.
Frenchman Romain Bardet redeemed what had looked like a disastrous three weeks for him by rallying to win the ‘King of the Mountains’ polka dot jersey with two fine performances in the Alps.