Egan Bernal was crowned as the first Colombian to win the Tour de France and the youngest in more than a century after safely negotiating the 21st and final stage into Paris Sunday.
The 22-year-old Team Ineos rider finished in the main peloton in a stage won by Caleb Ewan in a frantic sprint finish along the Champs Elysees, the third victory on the race for the Australian.
“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,” Bernal said after completing the grueling 3,409 km three-week marathon in triumph.
It was a thrilling conclusion to one of the closest races in recent Tour history, with Bernal’s victory in doubt until the penultimate stage in the Alps on Saturday.
He succeeds teammate Geraint Thomas, who finished second, one minute 11 seconds behind, as champion, breaking a run of four straight British wins in cycling’s most famous race.
“I think I should say thank you to all my team, thank you ‘G’ (Thomas) for the opportunity and all the team for their support and belief in me,” said Bernal.
Dutch rider Steven Kruijswijk (Jumbo-Visma) completed the podium, a further 20 seconds adrift, after a fine ride.
With four-time Tour champion Chris Froome missing after a pre-Tour crash, there were hopes of the first French victory in 34 long years, but home fans were ultimately left disappointed.
Fifth-placed Julian Alaphilippe bravely hung on in the yellow jersey for 14 days until Friday’s shortened 19th stage where Bernal took the lead for the first time, while a tearful Thibaut Pinot had to pull out through injury while well-placed to make a challenge on the three mountainous Alpine stages that ultimately decided the final outcome.
It was left to Romain Bardet to claim the consolation of the the Polka Dot Jersey for the mountain’s classification, switching his attention to the secondary prize after seeing his hopes of overall victory recede early in the race.
Alaphilippe, who lit up the Tour with his audacious performances, including two stage wins, was rewarded with the combativity prize from the organizers to great acclaim from the watching crowd.
Peter Sagan of Slovakia wrapped up the green points jersey for a record seventh time ahead of the traditional dash for the line in Paris, which is renowned as the most prestigious for the fast-men of the peloton.
“It’s such a surreal feeling, I can’t believe I won this stage,” said Lotto rider Ewan, who has dominated the sprints on the second half of the race, edging out Dutchman Dylan Groenewegen (Jumbo Visma) on the line.
Bernal, predicted by many to enjoy a long reign of success in the Tour de France, stayed out of trouble during the final laps around Paris to complete his victory, which has been greeted to much acclaim in Colombia where cycling is a national passion.
Others have come close in the past, but with the formidable Team Ineos machine behind him, including help from Thomas on the crucial concluding stages, Bernal was able to fulfill his destiny and write his name into the history books.
It was only his second Grand Tour finish, having taken 15th, supporting Thomas and Froome, in last year’s Tour de France.
The man who was brought up near Bogota high in the Andes, was originally scheduled to ride in the Giro d’Italia, but a broken collarbone he sustained in a race in May saw his attentions switched with such success to a memorable 106th edition of the Tour de France.
“It was a Tour de France of emotions,” said race director Christian Prudhomme, describing it as the best since he took charge in 2007.
Bernal, who also won the white jersey for top placed rider under 25, received high praise from five-time winner Bernard Hinault, France’s last champion in 1985.
“If you think he’s only 22, Bernal could go on to win more Tours de France than any of us,” he reflected.