PARIS – The euphoria felt by Colombians over their countryman Egan Bernal winning the country’s first Tour de France overflowed on the Champs-Elysees in Paris on Sunday afternoon as they greeted the 22-year-old cyclist at the end of the last leg of the contest.
The last leg of the race – the 121 kilometers (75 mi.) between Rambouillet and Paris – was the 21st in the 3,409 km (2,118 mi.) marathon bike race through France, and Bernal, riding for Ineos, clinched the victory, the youngest rider to do so in more than a century.
Bernal crossed the finish line with an overall time 1 minute and 10 seconds ahead of his British teammate Geraint Thomas, who won the biggest competition in cycling last year, and third-place Steven Kruijswijk of Holland, 21 seconds behind Thomas, the tightest 1-2-3 podium grouping in the race’s 116-year history.
Excited – and already partying – Colombian fans were everywhere on the Champs-Elysees for the traditional eight-lap finale past the Arc de Triomphe, the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre, with Australia’s Caleb Ewan (with Lotto Soudal and known as the “Pocket Rocket”) winning the three-hour stage, his third in this year’s competition in the culminating so-called “mass bunch sprint,” the crown jewel for the fastest competitors in the peloton.
Bernal is also the first Latin American to win the Tour de France.
Finishing second and third in the final stage were Holland’s Dylan Groenewegem with Jumbo Visma and Italy’s Niccolo Bonifazio with Direct Energie.
“I thank France for organizing the best race in the world, and for organising my greatest victory,” said Bernal.
“I simply can’t believe I have won it,” he said, tearful with emotion, at the winner’s podium before singing the national anthem and then addressing the huge crowd in four languages.
“I should say thanks to all my team, thank you ‘G’ (Thomas) for the opportunity,” he said, acknowledging Thomas’s agreement that Bernal would be the better man for Ineos in the Alps.
“Today I am the happiest guy in the world. I just won the Tour de France,” he said. “Vive la France, Vive la Colombie.”
A total of 176 men competed in this year’s race, which started in Brussels on July 6, and 155 finished the contest.
Although during much of the three-week race, it seemed that either Julian Alaphilippe, who wore the yellow jersey as overall race leader for two solid weeks, or Thibaut Pinot might bring home another Tour de France trophy for France, torrential rain on Stage 19 just two days before the finale drowned the hopes of the host nation, allowing Bernal to snatch the lead from the former and carry it through to the finish.