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Bernal, Alaphilippe to start Tour Colombia

WorldTour all-stars offer that elevation—which will be no less than 8,500 feet during every stage—to be the greatest challenge for this early season stage race.

The Tour Colombia begins Tuesday, in Tunja, and race favorites indicate they think altitude is expected to be the biggest factor.

All six stages start at a minimum 8,500 feet—a substantial challenge, so early in the season—which is greater than any elevation at the 2020 Tour de France. WorldTour teams have their eyes set on the opening team time trial, hoping to establish time gaps needed to separate the general classification. Fireworks are also expected for the mountain-top finale, on El Once Verjón, a category 2 climb that tops out at over 10,715 feet.

At a stadium in Tunja, the team presentation allowed Colombian fans a glimpse of their favorite stars, before action gets underway. The 27 teams, totaling 161 riders, rolled down a line, talking to the media and fans in a crowd which could have easily rivaled that of a grand tour.

Before taking to the stage for introductions, teams made a quick parade around the stadium, and then were seated, surrounded by the six jerseys and trophies that will be up for grabs this week.

Two of the three 2019 grand tour winners will be at the start of Tour Colombia: Team INEOS has sent Tour de France winner Egan Bernal, and Giro d’ Italia winner Richard Carapaz.

“It’s unique, the altitude will make its mark, it’s a really tough race,” said Carapaz, 26, who has switched to INEOS, from Movistar.

Egan Bernal will be making his 2020 season debut. “We will see what happens—we were hoping to support Ivan Sosa, but now he’s not able to be here,” Bernal said, speaking of his friend and teammate. “We will see how we end up in the team time trial and then how we will fair in the general classification.”

The 2019 Tour de France champion was the first winner of this race in Colombia, during his first year on the WorldTour. Bernal nearly swept all of the categories, taking home the mountains classification win, as well as best young rider.

“It’s a beautiful thing for me, to have won the first edition of the Tour of Colombia, and now the Tour de France. Of course we will do everything possible to win here again.”

Like many of his competitors, Bernal agrees the important time gaps for GC will take place on the opening stage, and also the finale on Sunday.

Team INEOS had been hoping to back Ivan Sosa, after the young Colombian finished second behind Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana) last season. Sosa suffered a broken thumb while racing the Colombian National Championships last week, which will force him to sit out. Astana has chosen not to participate this year, leaving the general classification without the previous winner on hand.

Esteban Chaves (Mitchelton-Scott), will be making his first appearance at the race as a professional cyclist in his home country, but with the Colombian National Team instead of his Australian-registered pro squad.

“It’s incredible to be part of this generation of cycling that is changing the country, the results that we are presenting around the world is very important for me,” Chaves said. “To race in this jersey is a big responsibility, but also with a good feeling, to do the things well, with love, and to enjoy the race.”

2015 Vuelta a España champion Fabio Aru (UAE-Emeriates), of Italy, will be on hand, as will be French star Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck–Quick-Step), who led last year’s Tour de France for most of the three weeks before fading to fifth.

Speaking with VeloNews, Alaphilippe offered, “It will be a really interesting race for sure.” The Frenchman was forced to abandon the Vuelta San Juan last month citing stomach issues. He arrived in Colombia feeling better, and ready to race. He finished 7th place on the general classification in 2019, and won the points classification.

“I was really disappointed to stop in Argentina,” said Alaphilippe. “For sure, we are really motivated to try and win the first stage, so we will do our best with the team time trial, then in the sprints with Alvaro [Hodeg]. I will see what I can do, but for sure, it will be difficult with the altitude on the last stage.”

Tuesday’s opening stage is a 16.7 km team time trial around Tunja, with Team INEOS favored for a strong showing.