Egan Bernal Wins The Tour de France For Team Ineos
By Saddleback Ltd – 30 July 2019 | Photos: Team Ineos
22-year-old Team Ineos rider Egan Bernal takes his first Tour de France victory in a scintillating edition of La Grande Boucle.
This year’s Tour de France was, without doubt, one of the most compelling editions in recent memory. Not only were the time gaps between the top five contenders a matter of mere seconds throughout much of the race but Team Ineos's leadership pairing of Geraint Thomas and Egan Bernal of Colombia combined with the rise of Julien Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-QuickStep) and the strength of Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) kept everyone guessing.
At only 22 years old, Bernal was ostensibly there to support reigning champion Thomas but with wins at Paris-Nice and Tour de Suisse, the younger rider was far more than a plan-B for Ineos. Rather, the Colombian was being talked about on at least equal terms with the Welshman, 10 years his senior.
Ineos weren’t the only team with multiple leaders but while Movistar's Nairo Quintana and Mikel Landa engaged in what appeared to be a contest to outdo each other via more and more bizarre tactics, Thomas and Bernal rode like teammates throughout, determined to achieve victory for the British squad.
Team Ineos put in a strong team time trial performance on Stage 2 coming second.
Stage 2 yielded a predictably strong TTT ride from Team Ineos, helped along by Castelli’s swiftest speed suits, naturally, an updated version of the attire that caused such a stir at last year's Tour.
French darling Alaphilippe took yellow on Stage 3, animating the host nation in a way not seen for decades, but was forced to test his legs against Thomas, whose strength was in evidence on the steep gradients of La Planche des Belles Filles.
Despite losing yellow the next day to the breakaway’s Giulio Ciccone (Trek-Segafredo), the French pairing of Alaphilippe and Pinot looked to be the strongest of Ineos’s competition. Alaphilippe’s ascendancy was cemented on Stage 8, where he regained the Maillot Jaune, then proved his doubters wrong over the next few days by matching Thomas on Stage 12’s first Pyrenean test, besting the Welshman by winning the following day’s time trial and putting the yellow jersey further out of reach atop the Tourmalet on Stage 14.
On that same infamous mountain, Bernal stayed with the leaders as Thomas flagged in the last kilometre and put himself back into the White Jersey of the best young rider, which he’d first tasted on Stage 8.
Urged on by Thomas, Bernal put in his first significant attack on Stage 15.
The Ineos campaign continued during the next day’s challenge in the Pyrenees on Stage 15. Pinot’s attack with 6km to go distanced all the contenders including Thomas, though Bernal was best of the rest, making 31 seconds on his teammate to cut the inter-Ineos deficit to just 27 seconds. Both scorpion-clad riders made time on Alaphilippe however, whose grip on yellow looked to be loosening with his lead to Thomas cut to 1:35.
All this set up what promised to be a spectacular finale on the closing Alpine stages. Stage 18’s ascent of the Galibier was another opportunity for Bernal to show his class. The Colombian danced away from the favourites, climbing effortlessly through the thin air to gain 32 seconds on the yellow jersey group and leapfrog himself into second place, five seconds ahead of his teammate but still 1:30 down on Alaphilippe, who’d been distanced by Thomas, but made time back with his aggressive descending.
Stage 18 saw Bernal power away to second place in the general classification.
Stage 19 would prove decisive. On the second-category Montée d'Aussois, a pained and weeping Thibaut Pinot was forced to give up his race ambitions and abandon with a muscle tear. During the ascent of the colossal Col d’Iseran – the 2019 Tour’s highest point at 2,770m – the peloton was whittled down to only the strongest riders under the infernal pace set by Team Ineos's chief domestiques Dylan Van Baarle and Wout Poels.
As Poels pulled over with 6km of the climb remaining, Thomas put in a punchy attack that forced the other GC hopefuls to chase. Bernal sat on the wheel of the struggling Alaphilippe for another kilometre before launching away himself, once again looking untouchable at altitude. The Colombian flew up the tarmac past the GC group and to the front of the race, dropping any breakaway members who dared to briefly match his pace.
Bernal took the Iseran summit’s eight-second time bonus, Thomas a minute behind, Alaphilippe two minutes back down the mountain. As Bernal began to descend, Simon Yates closed the distance to the Colombian, but it wasn’t long until race director Christian Prudhomme had pulled alongside the riders to tell them that the remainder of the day’s racing was cancelled. A freak hailstorm had covered the foot of the day’s final climb with half a metre of icy slush while a landslide further down the road made the route completely impassable.
Bernal took on the Tour's highest mountain with apparent ease, quickly dropping the opposition.
The result of this drama was that times for the stage would be taken from the top of the Col d’Iseran, denying Alaphilippe the opportunity to make up some of his lost time on the downhill. But the point was moot – Bernal was clearly the strongest rider in the race and was rewarded by the yellow jersey for the first time in what's sure to be a long career. The 22-year-old was 48 seconds ahead of the Frenchman and 1:16 ahead of Thomas, who was holding off fourth place Steven Kruijswijk (Team Jumbo-Visma) by just 14 seconds.
More storms overnight caused rubble-covered roads on Stage 20’s parcours, meaning a second truncated day in the mountains. The stage was cut to just 59km – 33km of which would be taken up by the 2019 Tour’s final climb to the summit finish on Val Thorens. The brevity of the stage meant it was full gas from the start.
Alaphilippe hung on until 13.5km to go, then finally cracked gritting his teeth as he dropped out of contention for the podium first time in three weeks under the furious pace of Ineos and Jumbo-Visma. The Frenchman worked hard to limit his losses and retain fifth place while Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) pushed hard towards the stage win as the lone survivor of the breakaway. In the small group of favourites, Thomas and Bernal stayed vigilant as the tarmac ribboned up the enormous climb.
Bernal and Thomas cross the finish of Stage 20 hand in hand, first and second in the GC secured.
It wasn’t until the final metres up to the line that the Castelli-clad duo broke into beaming smiles and Thomas gave his teammate a hearty congratulatory slap on the back. A look of equal parts elation and disbelief on his face, Bernal finished the stage as the youngest winner of the Tour de France for 110 years. Meanwhile Thomas, magnanimous as always, took second place with pride.
All in all, the 106th edition of the Tour de France provided phenomenal drama, animated by the unpredictability of Alaphilippe’s race and the perhaps unsurprising but no less exciting rise of Bernal. Given his age, it’s hard not to consider the young Colombian’s ride as the start of a new era – stepping into the leadership of Team Ineos for what could be more than a decade to come.
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