Egan Bernal has admitted he came close to defeat after a disappointing time-trial performance on this year’s stage 13 time trial in Pau.
“I almost lost it on that stage,” Bernal said after closing in on overall victory at Val Thorens, with only the final processional stage in Paris remaining. “I have to work very hard on the time trials but I lost a lot of time.”
But the new Tour champion also acknowledged that, in what was called the highest Tour in history, his high-altitude background gave him what he described as “a bit of an advantage”.
“I live in Colombia at 2,600 metres,” the 22-year-old said, “so when we are up high in the mountains I feel much better than in the first part of the climbs. I’m a climber and when we are going up, more and more, it’s better. I don’t know if it’s a coincidence but for sure it’s an advantage.”
Bernal is the first Colombian winner of the Tour and his success was hailed by the outgoing Tour champion and Ineos teammate, Geraint Thomas.
“It’s incredible,” the Welshman said. “I said to him, ‘Enjoy it, soak it all up and don’t worry about crying, because all real men cry.’ He’s an amazing athlete and it’s been an honour to be part of this.”
Thomas said Bernal’s ability was quickly apparent to all in his team. “The talent was there to see from the very start,” he said. “He’s improving all the time and was born to go uphill fast. He’s got the best team around him and he can continue to improve. He’s a humble guy with good support from his family and a very bright future. He has a good network to keep him grounded.”