Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 13 November 2019

Egan Bernal retains overall lead as Colombian poised to win first Tour de France

The Team Ineos rider, 22, finished Stage 20, won by 2014 champion Vicenzo Nibali of Italy, in fourth place

Colombia's Egan Bernal, wearing the overall leader's yellow jersey, celebrates as he crosses the finish line of the 20th stage of the 106th edition of the Tour de France in Val Thorens. AFP
Colombia's Egan Bernal, wearing the overall leader's yellow jersey, celebrates as he crosses the finish line of the 20th stage of the 106th edition of the Tour de France in Val Thorens. AFP

Egan Bernal struggled to contain his excitement as he stands on the brink of being crowned Colombia's first winner of the Tour de France.

The climbing phenomenon retained the overall lead after Saturday's 20th stage, a 59-km ride from Albertville to the ski resort of Val Thorens.

The Team Ineos rider, 22, finished the stage, won by 2014 champion Vicenzo Nibali, in fourth place. Italian Nibali is the only rider to interrupt the British team's stranglehold on the world's most famous Tour since 2012.

Bernal's teammate and defending champion Geraint Thomas is second overall ahead of Dutchman Steven Kruijswijk after France's Julian Alaphilippe cracked in the final ascent.

Sunday's final stage from Rambouillet to Paris is a largely processional ride with only the final sprint being contested.

Bernal, who claimed the yellow jersey when he was the first to the top of the Col de l'Iseran in Friday's truncated 19th stage, was never bothered in a stage that had been shortened due to landslides on the initial course.

"We still have to make it to Paris," said Bernal, who joined the Ineos team in 2018. "I can't understand what's happening, I will need a few days, it's incredible.

"I felt good in the climbs, I took it kilometre by kilometre."

The 2019 Tour as a whole has been a great advert for Colombian cycling, with Bernal's countrymen Rigoberto Uran and Nairo Quintana also assured of top-10 overall finishes.

Alaphilippe cracked with 14km to go in the final 33-km climb ending 2,365 metres above sea level and slipped from second to fifth overall.

Bernal is 1:11 ahead of Thomas, who was always bested by the Colombian in the mountains and never looked in a position to threaten him on his favourite terrain.

Kruijswijk is 1:31 off the pace. The Dutchman's Lotto Jumbo-Visma team set a high pace at the foot of the climb to Val Thorens and Laurens De Plus stepped up a gear to trim the peloton as the breakaway riders' advantage melted.

Sensing the main pack breathing down the neck of the breakaway, Nibali, looking to salvage a poor campaign with a stage win, went solo with 12.5km left.

He never looked back and held off world champion Alejandro Valverde, who took second place 10 seconds behind with his Movistar teammate and fellow Spaniard Mikel Landa finishing third.

"It was a difficult Tour for me but I never gave up and finally I win again on this race," said Nibali, who finished the Giro d'Italia second overall this year.

Bernal, who will also win the white jersey for the best Under 25 rider in the race, crossed the line 17 seconds off the pace.

In the absence of four-time champion and teammate Chris Froome, who missed the Tour after needing emergency surgery following a horrific crash last month, Bernal rose to the challenge after winning the Paris-Nice and Tour de Suisse week-long races.

He will become the youngest rider to win the Tour de France since the end of the Second World War.

"Congratulations Egan Bernal. What a rider! The first of many," Thomas wrote on Twitter.

Frenchman Romain Bardet, who dropped out of overall contention early in the race, is set to snatch the polka dot jersey for the mountain classification and Peter Sagan is expected to win a record seventh green jersey for the points classification.

Updated: July 27, 2019 08:23 PM

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