The Tour de France is one stage from ending with Colombia’s Egan Bernal set to be the first South American winner of the event. He leads fellow Team INEOS member Geraint Thomas by a minute and 11 seconds with just 128km to go.
Bernal was born in Zipaquirá, which is a city about 47km northeast of the capital city of Bogota. As a Colombian, he could be the first South American to win the Tour de France.
While Spain has the third-most champions with seven cyclists winning 12 titles, no other Spanish-speaking nation has produced a champion. France naturally has the most with 23 individuals taking home 36 championships.
The impending historic moment for Bernal has hit him emotionally, particularly when he donned his first yellow jersey after Stage 19.
“I was going at full speed, I attacked, and then was told to stop,” Bernal told French television according to Cycling Tips. “‘No! Not now!’ I was told that the race was stopped, and when it was explained that I was a leader and I had the yellow jersey, I did not believe it. The road was dry but we could not to continue the race due to the state of the road, but at the moment it was very weird. What matters is that I have the yellow jersey. It was a dream for me. Tomorrow there is still a very hard stage, but when I was given the yellow jersey and the lion, I really wanted to cry. I still cannot believe it.”
The disbelief is still there, but it’s starting to evolve into the unavoidable fact that he’s simply hours from making history.
France Strikes out Again
France has failed to produce a Tour de France champion since Bernard Hinault in 1985. Thibaut Pinot and Julian Alphillipe were the nation’s best hope, but they faded in the final stages of the Alps.
Alphillipe, in particular, started 90 seconds ahead of Bernal before Stage 19, only to end up 48 seconds behind after weather shortened the track on Friday. He now ranks just fifth, a far cry away from his two stage wins and 14 days in the famous maillot jaune.
“I gave it everything I had,” he told Cycling News Saturday. “I couldn’t have done any better. I was expecting to blow up at one moment or another, and voila, there it was.”
Pinot, meanwhile, was expected to make a surge in the Alps stages after several impressive climbs in the Pyrenees. However, he suffered a muscular lesion on his left thigh that forced him to retire midway through Stage 19.
“I did all I could,” Thibaut said through tears. “I believed I might have had a chance [of continuing], that it would pass. But unfortunately it did not. I was convinced [that I could possibly win the Tour], but unfortunately now I will never know. It will be hard to get over this.”
The 34-year drought will become 35 by next July. Should Pinot and Alphillipe stay healthy, they figure to give France its best chance to break the negative streak.