It was a moment to cherish for Egan Bernal on the road to Paris before Caleb Ewan won stage 21 of the Tour de France on the Champs-Elysees.
Australian Ewan came from well back in the pack to outsprint Dylan Groenewegen and collect his third stage win of the Tour as the sun set over the Arc de Triomphe at the end of the 130km stage from Rambouillet.
Just behind, Bernal crossed the line alongside team-mate and last year’s winner Geraint Thomas to secure his first Grand Tour victory in only his second career three-week race.
Bernal, who took the yellow jersey on Friday’s weather-shortened stage 19 in the Alps, becomes the first Colombian winner of the Tour and, at 22 years 196 days, the youngest winner in more than a century.
Thomas collected second place to give Britain a 10th podium finish in the history of the race, while Jumbo-Visma’s Steven Kruijswijk secured third place.
As the traditional procession into Paris began from Rambouillet to the west of the city, Bernal was congratulated first by Julian Alaphilippe, who animated the 106th Tour as his aggressive start and dogged defence was rewarded by 14 days in the yellow jersey and, it was announced on Sunday, the Super Combatif award for the most aggressive rider.
Celebrations started from the Ineos team car with Bora-Hansgrohe’s Peter Sagan – who won the green jersey for a record seventh time – doing his best to photobomb.
Bernal’s victory continues a remarkable run of success for Sir Dave Brailsford’s team, who have now won seven of the last eight Tours and – including the 2011 Vuelta a Espana title awarded to Chris Froome earlier this month following Juan Jose Cobo’s doping case – 10 Grand Tours in all since their formation in 2010.
For once Brailsford’s team did not dominate a Tour which will be remembered for Alaphilippe’s remarkable run in yellow, but they were always next in line for when the Frenchman did – as expected – finally crack in the Alps.
Although Thomas had been best placed to take over for much of the race, Bernal made moves in the Pyrenees to take back time he had lost in the time trial, and then had the best legs in the Alps when it really mattered.
He took yellow on Friday’s weather-shortened stage 19, having attacked on the climb of the Col de l’Iseran, the highest point on the Tour. Sir Jim Ratcliffe, whose buyout of what was Team Sky earlier this year secured the team’s future, was watching on the from the team car as Bernal celebrated victory.
The more things change, the more they stay the same. The late 19th Century French journalist and novelist Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr is credited with penning this epigram and it serves as an apt method with which to wrap up the 2019 Tour de France.
Things change: Egan Bernal, at 22, became the youngest Tour de France champion in 110 years on Sunday, and the first from Colombia.
Things stay the same: and yet, Team Ineos rode to yet another success at cycling’s most lauded event – Bernal’s triumph a seventh year in the last eight a rider wearing Ineos (Team Sky) colours has captured the famed yellow jersey.
Ineos’ grip on, nay, obsession with Le Tour is fascinating. Other teams may be enjoying success – Deceuninck Quick-Step’s number of victories over the last two years is bordering on the ridiculous, while rookie ventures UAE Team Emirates and Bahrain-Merida are making quiet strides.
But Ineos’ thirst for glory and continued pursuit of excellence on cycling’s grandest stage is deservedly keeping the spotlight focused on them.
Even ahead of this year’s race, an out of form and injured Geraint Thomas was seen as the favourite to retain the crown he took from Chris Froome last year. The Welshman hardly shone as he did 12 months earlier, yet he was still more than good enough to be among the leaders throughout.
ICYMI: Here's the moment @EganBernal & @GeraintThomas86 crossed the line together as the pair all but wrapped up a one-two finish at the Tour de France.— Team INEOS (@TeamINEOS) July 27, 2019
Get all the reaction: 🗣️https://t.co/FWfAWOPONE pic.twitter.com/J6YayAQ6gw
Eventually finishing runner-up to team-mate Bernal, just 1’ 11” adrift, with the likes of Steven Kruijswijk, Emanuel Buchmann, Julian Alaphilippe, Mikel Landa and Rigoberto Uran not quite able to do enough to give Ineos a thorough inspection.
Bernal was seen as a pre-race favourite – for the young rider’s white jersey, not the yellow. Of the 176 participants from the 22 teams that took to the start line in Brussels on July 6, Bernal was the second youngest – only UAE Team Emirates’ burgeoning Belgian Jasper Philipsen, 21, his junior.
Coming into the race a bright future was being discussed. That future already appears to be here.
He was sort of thrust into the limelight following Froome’s horrific Tour-ending crash in training – which left him with multiple broken bones including a fractured neck, right femur, a broken hip and fractured ribs – while Thomas was lucky to escape serious injury in a crash during Stage 4 at the Tour de Suisse, ending his participation. Both occurred in June, just weeks before the Tour.
Yet, team principal Dave Brailsford had no hesitation in naming Bernal co-leader alongside the reigning champion – perhaps acutely aware that he was ready for the biggest of steps up.
Thomas, who despite admitting to never being at his best during the last month, will feel bitterly disappointed inside at getting so close and being so far away from retaining his title.
And yet, he essentially seemed to willingly fall in line to help his younger Colombian colleague secure the overall – and ultimate – race lead on the shortened penultimate stage to Val Thorens on Saturday.
Success is part of Ineos’ present and past. But in Bernal they are also investing in the future. Never satisfied with what they have they are always seeking to improve and extend their Tour de France legacy, even if Bernal’s ascension to the throne came quicker than expected.
Team-mates Thomas and Froome – winners of the last four Tours and five of the previous six – might be considered at the top of the slope and on their way down the mountains that have been their careers.
Bernal, meanwhile, is at the foot of what could prove a steep and prolonged incline.
Just think, 2019 Giro d’Italia winner Richard Carapaz is set to join them next season. With rumours a two-year contract for the Ecuadorian to move from Movistar to join his fellow South American Bernal is to be announced on August 1, Ineos are making inroads into the future with Thomas, 33, and Froome, 34, entering their twilight.
Imagine an Ineos line-up for the 2020 Tour consisting of all four – the last three champions as well as 26-year-old Giro king, Carapaz. Sure, the debate of team leaders would cause havoc and generate headlines galore. But it would be almost impossible to see anyone beyond them coming out on top once more.
For all this talk of Ineos’ success and stranglehold on cycling’s signature race, it would be remiss of us not to mention another rider.
A thought, or several, must be spared for Alaphilippe – the home hope who wore yellow for 14 of the 2019 Tour’s 21 stages. Who seemed for so long like he might just end 34 years of hurt for the host nation, who hadn’t seen one of their own clamber atop the No1 spot on the podium in Paris since Bernard Hinault won the fifth and final of his Tour titles in 1985.
Alaphilippe deserves plenty of praise for his phenomenal efforts in remaining with the mountain men for most of the race – especially through the torturous Pyrenees and Alps.
Still, even with the career year he is having, he did not possess the reserves to rip away Ineos’ grip on the magnificent maillot jaune.
For Alaphilippe, Quick-Step and indeed the rest of the riders and teams, they all face a struggle to keep up with the pace being set by Ineos.
Egan Bernal will stand on the top step in Paris on Sunday as the youngest winner of the Tour de France in the post-war era and the first from Colombia.
As Vincenzo Nibali collected the stage victory in the Alpine ski resort of Val Thorens, the biggest celebrations were at the Team Ineos hotel after their 22-year-old star successfully defended his yellow jersey.
Bernal can now enjoy the fact he will seal a seventh Tour win out of the last eight for his British-registered team.
“I think not,” Bernal said when asked whether his achievement had sunk in. “I’m really happy for sure but when we arrive at the hotel and I will be alone maybe I will believe it.
“I have not won it yet, we have one stage in front of us…but yeah, it’s almost ready. I almost won the Tour.
“It’s our first Tour so you can imagine (the reaction in Colombia). I think it’s really important for us. I’m really proud to be the first Colombian to win the Tour.”
Last year’s winner Geraint Thomas effectively handed over the title as they crossed the line arm in arm in Val Thorens, with the Welshman having moved up himself in the general classification to make it a one-two for Ineos.
Thomas admitted there was a tinge of disappointment to lose his crown, saying this year’s race had been “night and day” compared with 12 months ago.
“Sometimes it felt like any last thing that could go wrong went wrong,” he said. “Even in the run up it wasn’t plain sailing, there were always things happening and sometimes it was tough. I had to stay positive and focused and keep fighting.
“It was great that Egan won and crossing the line today was an amazing feeling and it’s great to be part of it again for the team.
“But from a personal point of view, last year I didn’t have a crash or have one puncture. I felt good every day and I was on a roll, similar to Egan this year. But all you can do is get out there and keep fighting.”
Jumbo-Visma’s Steven Kruijswijk will take the bottom step on the podium after Julian Alaphilippe, who started the day second overall after his remarkable run in yellow, cracked once more on the final day.
Bernal was almost named the winner without a pedal being turned on Saturday as the bad weather which struck on Friday continued in the Alps, and threatened to see the stage from Albertville, already cut from 130km to 59km, abandoned altogether.
But the rain, hail and lightning held off long enough for the race to be run at an aggressive pace given the short distance.
Bahrain-Merida’s Nibali, the 2014 Tour winner but never a contender this year after his efforts in the Giro d’Italia, took the stage win out of the breakaway while Jumbo-Visma set the pace behind, looking to shake off Alaphilippe to get Kruijswijk on the podium.
Nibali made the decisive move on the 33.4km climb to Val Thorens 13 kilometres from the summit, just as Alaphilippe was going the other way off the back of the main group.
Stand up & take a bow @Eganbernal! 🇨🇴 😎 To keep that head at that age..WOW. @GeraintThomas86 still showing why he’s so loved. 🇬🇧 💗👌Such class & graciousness.— Mark Cavendish (@MarkCavendish) July 27, 2019
Still, biggest round of applause goes to @alafpolak this @LeTour. True heart, grit, personality. 🇫🇷 🦁
This was arguably the weakest Ineos have looked in their long-running dominance of the race, and yet they emerged with their best result since Sir Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome occupied the top two steps of the podium in 2012.
They did not take the yellow jersey until Bernal’s attack on the Col de l’Iseran paid dividends on a weather-shortened Stage 19, and the sight of their riders massed on the front of the peloton setting a pace designed to burn off their rivals has been rare.
But that will not matter to team principal Sir Dave Brailsford, whose investment in the precocious Bernal has paid off sooner than expected.
The Colombian had been pencilled in to lead the team at the Giro in May but after a training crash ruled him out he turned attention to the Tour, where he expected to be supporting Thomas and Froome.
But after Froome’s crash at the Criterium du Dauphine and Thomas’ spill at the Tour de Suisse, Bernal was elevated to co-leader status and has repaid the faith shown in him.
Though he did not win a stage – with no victor named on Stage 19 where he crested the Iseran first – Bernal was consistently attacking in the mountains to make up for the time he lost to Thomas in the Stage 13 time trial.