Tour reflections: Egan Bernal

08 Aug 2019

Tour reflections: Egan Bernal

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A week before the Giro d'Italia and, just hours after crashing and breaking his collarbone, Egan Bernal is sat up in his hospital bed asking coach Xabi Artetxe how many days until the Tour de France.

The young Colombian was quick to recalibrate and put the disappointment of missing the Giro behind him. The following week, back on two wheels, his journey to the Tour began. Two months later, he had won it.
 
"To be honest, I don't really believe it yet," he said, speaking to TeamINEOS.com ahead of his homecoming in Colombia. "I feel the same as I did before the Tour. I think I just need a couple of days at home, staying really calm, and then I'll start to believe that I have won the Tour. I can’t process it. I have won the biggest race, but I’ll still be happy to win a small race. Right now I think that I am the same guy that started the Tour in Belgium one month ago.
 
"Maybe the key to winning the Tour is just trying to enjoy it. During the Tour, the media talk about pressure, pressure, pressure, but if I'd started to think about that, maybe I wouldn't have ridden the same? Maybe when I had a bad day or didn't have the best feeling, I would have started to think about the pressure.
 
"But throughout the Tour I knew I had prepared in the best way I could. What could I do then? Just enjoy it and ride as fast as I could. I couldn’t control what the other guys would do or how they would ride, so all I could do was my best. I knew I would do my best so I would have been happy with any result – either winning the Tour or helping G win the Tour. In the end I just knew I needed to go full gas, enjoy the race, and stay calm."
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Bernal also stayed calm after his training crash ahead of the Giro. "It wasn't difficult to stay motivated after missing the Giro," he explained. "Mostly I was sad for my teammates, who had trained so hard to help me at the Giro. That was my first thought. But when I crashed I was in really good form and I said ‘Okay’, I knew I didn’t have much time to prepare for the Tour and I was starting with really good form. For the time I was off the bike I tried to stay focused with my routine. It worked."
 
The man alongside Bernal as he overcame the Giro setback and set his sights on the Tour was coach Artetxe. He has coached Bernal since he joined the team at the start of last season, and the pair have formed a close bond.
 
"He is the person who I talk to about the team, cycling and everything. At any moment if I had a doubt about my preparation or was not sure about winning the Tour, he was calm. For example when I was fifth he was saying to me: ‘You are just 30 seconds from winning the Tour.’ He is like my Dad in the team, so when I’m doing things really well he will praise me, but when I'm not, he will say: 'Hey you are not doing really well, you need to do this and this.'"
Egan Bernal

Egan Bernal

I can’t describe it to be honest. I almost cried on the podium.
It's safe to say after stage 19, when Bernal attacked on the Col de l’Iseran to ride into the yellow jersey, Artetxe must have been full of praise for the 22 year old. He became just the third Colombian to wear the maillot jaune.
 
"It was just amazing. I can’t describe it to be honest. I almost cried on the podium. When I was really young, I saw Contador and the big battles with Schleck, then guys like Wiggins and Froomey. I saw them on the TV. And wow, I couldn't imagine that one day I would be there. On the podium I was thinking of them. It was just amazing because my Dad and my girlfriend were there. It was a special moment.
 
"Already from the start I was doing everything right to make the podium, but I was the co-leader with G, so I was also thinking, ‘Yes I'm in a really good position on GC, but if I need to work for G, I will do it.’ It was only on the day I took yellow, I thought 'Yeah maybe I can win', because when you take the yellow it gives you some extra powers; it is more difficult to lose it."
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As soon as Bernal took yellow, the already incredible Colombian support ratcheted up a notch. It helped see him home on the shortened stage 20 and then he was greeted by thousands of his compatriots on the streets of Paris. They were welcoming the first Colombian winner of the world's biggest bike race.
 
"It was incredible to be out on the road in yellow," Bernal recalled. "The Colombians were everywhere. When I was on the podium in Paris there were almost more Colombians than French people! It is amazing to see a lot of Colombian flags. It is just really important to us. When you are climbing full gas and you can see a lot of Colombians and they are cheering you on in Spanish, it really gives you an extra boost.
 
"It makes it more special, that it is a first Tour win for Colombia. Colombia already had a Giro and a Vuelta victory, but I don’t know why the Tour – until last month – was impossible for us. Colombia was always thinking of the yellow dream and we did come second with Nairo and with Rigo, so I'm really honoured to be the person who has brought this yellow jersey to Colombia. For sure, Colombia will enjoy it."
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