TIGNES, France (VN) — Colombian Egan Bernal (Ineos) took his first yellow jersey in the Tour de France and paved the way to becoming the first from his nation to win — but it came in extreme circumstances.
Hail, heavy rain, and a mudslide forced organizer ASO to cut the stage short, eliminating the Tignes summit finish. Instead, it took the riders’ times at the top of the penultimate climb of the Col de l’Iseran — on which Bernal attacked to drop yellow jersey Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quick Step) and his other direct rivals.
“I was feeling really good, and when they said that I had to stop I told them, ‘No, I’m not going to,'” Bernal said. “But then they explained to me what was going on and that I was the race leader and would be in the yellow jersey. I couldn’t believe it and I still don’t believe it. I’m so happy.”
The iced roads and mud made it impossible to pass for bikes or cars. A plow worked in vain to clear the area at Val d’Isère, 104km into the 126.5 stage.
Instead, ASO told the teams and riders as they raced down the l’Iseran that stage 19 was over. Bernal, who topped the l’Iseran solo, 50 seconds over the star group and 2:07 over Alaphilippe, would become the yellow jersey.
“I heard some words in English but I didn’t really understand what they were saying. I didn’t realize that they wanted us to stop,” Bernal added. “I asked them to repeat what they were saying in Spanish and it was only then that I really understood what was going on.”
“We couldn’t continue racing with the road in the state it was. It was perhaps the best place to stop the riders, but at the time it seemed very strange. We didn’t know what was happening exactly.”
When the race ends in 48 hours in Paris, assuming Bernal holds his lead, he would be the youngest post-war winner and the first Colombian to capture yellow.
“But now I’ve got the yellow jersey and it’s a dream for me,” he said. “But there’s still a very hard stage ahead. We’ve not reached Paris yet. But when they gave me the yellow jersey and the lion, I really felt like crying. Tomorrow I will try to give my very best, but I still can’t believe it.”
Bernal leads by 48 seconds over Alaphilippe, who appears to be fading, and by 1:16 over teammate and 2018 winner Geraint Thomas.
“I will now do everything that I can to hold on to this jersey until the race finishes in Paris,” Bernal added.
Bernal said that he does not expect Thomas to attack, and that it will be a job left for the team’s rivals to try and take the jersey from Ineos.
“Egan’s in yellow, so the main thing is that he finishes the job,” Thomas said. “I haven’t seen any GC standings, but for sure he’ll have a decent advantage over everyone else so we’ll fully support him now.”
The race’s final test is a 130km stage to Val Thorens. On Sunday, it ends with the sprint stage in Paris on the Champs-Élysées.