0731 GMT February 23, 2020
The story of the 22-year-old’s win is the chronicle of a victory foretold, in which the defending champion, Geraint Thomas, was always likely to be second best, the Guardian reported.
As early as stage three to Épernay, Bernal was straining at the leash, tempted to shatter his team’s meticulous hierarchy by following Julian Alaphilippe as he attacked on the appropriately named Cote de Mutigny.
Instead, Bernal sat tight for another two weeks, until the climactic and chaotic Alpine stages, before finally unleashing the devastating climbing speed that reduced his rivals, and his teammate Thomas, to helpless spectators. His ascent of the Col de l’Iseran revealed with blinding clarity who was the best mountain goat in what the race organizers billed as the highest Tour.
Despite the speculation that their dual leadership would lead to a repeat of the tensions that characterized Bradley Wiggins’s relationship with Chris Froome, there was little sign of any rancor throughout the Tour, and Thomas was crestfallen and gracious in defeat.
“He’s a pleasure to ride with,” Thomas said.
“I don’t want to put pressure on the lad but he’s 22, he’s got 10 years in front of him, he could become one of the greatest ever. Froome is probably the best Grand Tour rider at the moment with his record and consistency but I think Egan can be just as good, or even improve.”
In keeping with that statement, the Ineos chief, Dave Brailsford, had already described Bernal as “the new Chris Froome”.
“The harder the race gets, the better he gets,” he said. “I think that’s why as a Grand Tour contender now and in the future, the ability to resist fatigue is one of his greatest strengths.”
Bernal’s all-round ability, fueled by his father’s love of cycling and founded in mountain biking, was further honed in Italian racing with the lowly Androni Giacottoli team, managed by renowned talent spotter Gianni Savio. It has now been further enhanced at Ineos, with whom he has a five-year contract.
“At 33, 34, Geraint and Chris are coming to the twilight of their careers,” Brailsford said.
“I wanted a new Chris Froome, basically. So I set myself the challenge of finding him. I took two years looking at all the younger riders and liked the look of Egan. I had to wait a year and then managed to negotiate him out of his contract.”
Brailsford’s insatiable appetite for success, that only a few months ago appeared stymied after Sky pulled their sponsorship, has taken another leap forward.
“This is the moment that could make Colombia one of the greatest cycling nations in the world,” he said. “Colombia could be to cycling what Brazil is to football. This victory can help make that happen.”
His youth policy, which also includes Tao Geoghegan Hart, Tom Pidcock, Pavel Sivakov, Eddie Dunbar and Ruben Sosa, seems certain to continue the production line of Grand Tour success that has been so lauded and also so controversial.
“We focused on recruiting a team of ‘young guns,’ many of whom rode the Giro this year, and it’s exciting to help them develop and grow whilst also having the A team continuing to push their performance at the highest level.”
He has now added even more Latin talent to his roster by luring the recent Giro d’Italia winner, Richard Carapaz, to Ineos. The signing is expected to be confirmed next week, when the Ecuadorian joins a team overflowing with stage racing talent.
The absence of Froome may have diminished the Sky-Ineos aura of invincibility, but tactically Ineos were discreet and opportunistic, managing an indisputably weaker lineup than in past years and exploiting the ambitions of others to secure first and second overall.
French riders lit up this Tour and without the bravura riding of Julian Alaphilippe and Thibaut Pinot, particularly in the Pyrenees when Thomas was not at his best, Bernal might not have leapfrogged his teammate to win the race.
The Colombian’s instinct to follow Pinot’s accelerations on the Pyrenean summit finishes at the Col du Tourmalet and the climb to Foix Prat d’Albis revealed the gulf in climbing ability between him and Thomas.
After that it was merely a question of Bernal being given his head and claiming the lead in the Alps. That moment came on the climb of the Col de l’Iseran, which Brailsford described as “37 minutes to win the Tour”.
For all the talk of panache, flair and romance that characterized this Tour, Brailsford remained Spock-like in his analysis, stating he saw it as a “challenge of managing logic versus emotion”.
“This race, more than most, triggered that debate in my head. However, I believed that if we stayed disciplined, chose the right strategy and executed well then it was hard to see a different outcome than winning. In the end strategy, patience and belief won over chaos.”
That clinical assessment was proven correct but neglected to mention the honorable natures of his two leaders, who, unlike Wiggins and Froome, kept their cool in the Tour’s hothouse.
“Egan’s got morals,” Thomas said. “Colombians are honest and family-oriented and I definitely feel that with Egan. The biggest thing is that he can speak English really well, so we can communicate.”
Yet the togetherness that secured the top two steps on the Paris podium on Sunday has been a remarkable turnaround for a team who were staring at extinction less than six months ago, with their big name riders potentially in the marketplace looking for new teams.
“We know in life the goal posts will move – we just don’t know when. So when they do it’s best to quickly adjust to the new situation, accept it and don’t spend any emotion feeling frustrated or bitter about it,” Brailsford said.
“I couldn’t be prouder of how the team stuck together through this period and delivered both off the bike and on it.”