Egan Bernal will become the first Colombian to win the Tour de France when the race finishes in Paris this evening – and the fourth rider from Team Ineos, formerly Team Sky, to win the yellow jersey.
When they stood on the top step of the Champs-Elysées podium, Sir Bradley Wiggins, Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas were all familiar figures not only to cycling fans in Great Britain, but also the wider public. The 22-year-old Bernal remains a little-known figure here, however, so read on to find out more about the rider set to make history today and his lightning-fast ascent to the pinnacle of the sport.
Starting out as a mountain biker
Bernal’s father, German, was a decent amateur rider and from the age of eight, the youngster was following in his tyre tracks and soon winning races. That brought him at the age of 12 to the Fundación Mezuena, which works with children from disadvantaged backgrounds who show sporting promise. At one point, Bernal considered giving up cycling to concentrate on his studies with the aim of getting into university, but the foundation’s director, Pablo Mazuera, persuaded him to carry on, even offering to pay for a year’s study if he persevered.
World championship medals
He’d go on to finish win silver in the men’s junior cross-country race at the UCI Mountain Bike & Trials World Championships in Lillehammer, Norway in 2014, and bronze in the same event in Valnord, Andorra, the following year, but according to Mazuera despite winning those medals, there were no career opportunities for the youngster in mountain biking in Colombia.
Switch to the road
Bernal decided to focus on the road, and 2015 saw him win the Colombian three-day race, the Clasica Juventudes Cajica and the Italian one-day junior race, Sognando Il Giro delle Fiandre – literally, ‘Dreaming of the Tour of Flanders’ – with a solo attack. That brought him to the attention of Androni-Sidermec team manager Gianni Savio who, impressed with VO2 Max test results that put Bernal up there with the world’s best, offered him a four-year contract with the Italian UCI professional continental outfit.
Debut season as a pro cyclist
Now coached by five-time Monument winner Michele Bartoli, Bernal’s debut season in 2016 saw him win the youth classifications at the Settimana Internazionale Coppi e Bartali and the Giro del Trentino, before winning the opening road stage and the overall title at the Romanian four-day race, the Tour of Bihor.
Tour de l’Avenir win brings WorldTour attention
Bernal had finished fourth at the Tour de l’Avenir in 2016 and the following year topped the general classification at the week-long race, whose past winners include several riders who went on to Tour de France glory including Miguel Indurain and Greg LeMond.
Earlier in the season, he had made his WorldTour debut at Tirreno-Adriatico, finishing 16th, and his performances throughout the season attracted interest from top-flight teams, with Team Sky buying out the remaining two years of his contract.
Early success with Team Sky
His Team Sky career got off to a flying start in the early months of 2018, 6th place overall in his debut at the Tour Down Under followed by him winning the Colombian national time trial championship, overall stage race victories at Colombia Oro y Paz and the Tour of California, and second place overall at the Tour de Romandie.
Tour de France debut
Those performances earned him a Tour de France debut with Team Sky, who had initially planned for the Vuelta later in the season to be his first Grand Tour.
Crashes on the Stage 9 cobbles to Roubaix saw him lose around a quarter of an hour and any hopes of a high GC finish, but after putting in impressive performances in support of Thomas and Froome in the Alps and Pyrenees, he would still finish 15th overall and second in the young rider classification.
A subsequent crash at San Sebastien ruled him out of the Vuelta, but he returned for the late season Italian Classics.
Training crash ends Giro d’Italia plans
Bernal lives with his girlfriend Xiomy Guerrero in the city he was born in, Zipaquira, 50 kilometres northeast of Colombia’s capital Bogota, and has his European base in Andorra.
It was while training there for May’s Giro d’Italia, where he was due to lead Team Ineos, that he crashed and broke his collarbone, forcing him to miss the race.
Refocus on Tour de France
Bernal – who had not raced since the Tour of Catalonia in March – returned for thee Tour de Suisse, alongside Thomas, and with Froome’s crash at the Criterium du Dauphiné shortly beforehand ruling the four-time winner out of the Tour de France, Team Ineos were adjusting their plans.
Thomas himself crashed out of the Swiss race, with Bernal going on to win the overall, and the pair lined up in Brussels at the start of the Tour de France as joint leaders of Team Ineos.
The top step of the Champs-Elysées podium
The rest is history, with Bernal set to be crowned the winner of the 106th edition of the race on the Champs-Elysées podium this evening – the fourth youngest champion in the race’s history. The inevitable question now is, how many more titles will he add in the coming years?
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.