Egan Bernal will be crowned the Tour de France winner on the Champs-lyses after keeping hold of the yellow jersey during a shortened penultimate stage

In the thin, chilly air of Val Thorens ski station, Sir Dave Brailsford might have allowed himself a wry smile as he watched his new Tour de France champion, Egan Bernal, and last years model, Geraint Thomas, embrace. Only six months ago, Brailsford was looking for a sponsor for his super team, and fighting to hang on to his big names after Sky unexpectedly opted to end its relationship with cycling.

Many doubted if Brailsford could keep his all-star team together, and if he could ever replace the big-money sponsorship that had led to accusations of him buying success in the Tour, no less than six times between 2012 and 2018. There were those too, who viewed him as damaged goods, in the aftermath of Team Skys flawed zero-tolerance policy, the fudged Salbutamol investigation into Chris Froome and the damning verdict of a House of Commons select committee into anti-doping.

Yet he has now bagged a seventh Tour. Despite the numerous criticisms, the loss of Chris Froome through injury, the huffing and puffing of the French, Teflon Dave has done it again. Brailsfords ability to reach into the toilet and pull out chocolate, as rival manager Jonathan Vaughters once put it, has seen him through with a new sponsor Ineos and a new Tour de France champion his teams fourth since 2012 in Bernal.

The 22-year-old Colombians triumph was sealed at altitude in Val Thorens, after Julian Alaphilippe cracked and the Jumbo-Visma teams best efforts to set up a last-ditch bid by Steven Kruijswijk to claw his way on to the podium finally dislodged the Frenchman.

Bernal remained in a state of disbelief, even when presented with the yellow jersey for the second day running. Im really happy but when we arrive at the hotel and Im alone, maybe only then I will believe it.

Its our first Tour, so you can imagine the reaction, Bernal said when asked what it meant to his home nation. I think its really important for us. Im really proud to be the first Colombian to win the Tour.

Steven
Steven Kruijswijk (right) and Egan Bernal make their ascent into to Val Thorens. Photograph: Tim de Waele/Getty Images

The final mountain stage, truncated and missing two major climbs due to continuing severe weather and landslides in the Alps, in effect became a team time trial to the 2,365-metre ski station, while the final outcome boiled down to a heavyweight bout between the finest climbers.

Best of the bunch was the 2014 Tour winner Vincenzo Nibali, the only professional to interrupt Brailsfords Tour dynasty. The Sicilian was the last aggressor from a large group that had attacked at the start of the stage and rode into the final kilometres desperate to rescue an under-achieving Tour with a stage win.

Brief accelerations from Simon Yates, Warren Barguil and Nairo Quintana threatened his lead but Nibali held on to notch his first Tour stage win since 2015. Behind him, Bernal, shepherded dutifully by Thomas, crossed the line, right fist raised in triumph, as the Welshman slapped him on the back.

Alaphilippes hopes of a place on the Paris podium definitively unravelled with 13km still to race, fatigue combining with his limitations at altitude as he failed to stay with the pace set by the leading riders.

It would have been hard for me to do better, said Alaphilippe , who slid down the standings to fifth overall. I was waiting to pop at any given moment, and I hung on pretty well. Without my team, I would have finished 15 minutes behind everyone. Its my temperament to be like this, all or nothing.

A Colombian Tour champion has been long-awaited, with the countrys first major impact on the European scene being made as long ago as the 1980s through climbers such as Luis Herrera, Fabio Parra and Martn Ramrez. In recent years, the Colombian presence has been even stronger, with Nairo Quintana, winner of the 2014 Giro dItalia and 2016 Vuelta a Espaa, finishing second to Froome in the 2013 Tour.

Both Quintana and Rigoberto Urn, runner-up to Froome in the 2017 Tour and second overall in the Giro in 2013 and 2014, have A-list status in Colombia. Such is Urns standing back home that during Brailsfords search for a sponsor, the 32 year old finessed a meeting for his former team manager with his nations president.

At the start of this year, Brailsford returned fired up and enthused about the possibilities for Latin American cycling after his latest visit to Colombia. Bernals victory has kicked down a door that was already slightly ajar and that now opens up new territories for cycling, both in commercial and sporting terms.

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Bernal spearheads Brailsfords youth policy, which also includes riders such as Tao Geoghegan Hart, Tom Pidcock, Pavel Sivakov, Eddie Dunbar and Ivn Sosa, also Colombian. Meanwhile, the scramble to sign other young Colombians is gathering pace, with Sergio Higuita, snapped up recently by Vaughters for his Education First team, tipped for success.

If Brailsford, his staff and his riders are to be praised for their resilience during a Tour dogged by crashes and ill-discipline through Luke Rowes disqualification, then there is little doubt that Bernals win ushers in a changing of the guard for the British team, with both Thomas and the injured Froome now entering the twilight of their careers.

The outgoing champion maintains he is not finished yet, which might make next years Ineos team a little top heavy. Asked if he can win another Tour, Thomas said: I think so. A lot of people probably dont but that spurs me on. Its disappointing that I didnt win my second but its not about me today, its all about Egan. It was an incredible performance from him.

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/us

 

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