Bernal makes history with Tour triumph as Ewan wins on Champs-Elysees
Egan Bernal was crowned Colombia’s first Tour de France winner in Paris on Sunday night after Australia’s Caleb Ewan won the showpiece final sprint on the Champs-Elysees.
After three enthralling weeks in the saddle, defending champion Thomas was beaten by Bernal by 1’11 with the Dutchman Steven Kruijswijk (Jumbo-Visma) completing the podium a further 20 seconds back.
Germany’s Emanuel Buchmann (Bora-Hansgrohe) was fourth while Frenchman Julian Alaphilippe, the Deceuninck-QuickStep rider who lit up the race with two stage wins and 15 glorious days in yellow, completed the top five after a passionate race which gave the home fans a lot to cheer.
“I would like to say thank you to all my team and especially to G[eraint Thomas]. Today I am the happiest guy in the world," an emotional Bernal said from the final podium before saying separate words of thanks in Italian, Spanish and French.
"Thank you for the most beautiful victory in my life," he added.
The final 128km stage to the French capital, which culminated with eight city-centre loops on the famous cobbles of the Champs-Elysees in the shadows of the Arc de Triomphe, was won clinically by Lotto Soudal's Ewan.
It was three and easy for the pint-sized Australian, who zipped along the right-hand side of the road by the barriers to finish his debut Tour in style.
Ewan beat the Dutch 2017 Champs-Elysee winner Dylan Groenewegen (Jumbo-Visma) and Frenchman Niccolo Bonifazio (Total-Direct Energie) for a third win on the race.
“It’s unbelievable. When we rolled onto the Champs-Elysees I almost had tears in my eyes - I can’t believe I’ve just won the final stage here,” Ewan said.
“The Tour started quite slow for me but all my wins have now come in the second half. It was quite messy but I was patient and then went for it on the right-hand side.”
Behind Ewan’s incredulous celebrations, Bernal crossed the line arm-in-arm with Thomas to cap an astonishing breakthrough from a rider who could go on to dominate the sport.
In only the second Grand Tour of his career, youngster Bernal also won the race’s white jersey and, at 22, the youngest remaining rider in the peloton, became the youngest post-war winner of the Tour, the youngest since 1909 - and the youngest to ever wear yellow in Paris.
Slovakia’s Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) won a record-breaking seventh green jersey, having worn the garment (which over the years he has made his own) from Stage 2 through to the finish.
After a disappointing Tour in which he finished lowly 27th place, Romain Bardet (Ag2R-La Mondiale) salvaged some pride by winning the polka dot king of the mountains jersey, while Movistar won the team classification for a record sixth time after placing their three leaders - Spaniards Mikel Landa and Alejandro Valverde, and the Colombian Nairo Quintana - in the top 10.
History for Bernal, Colombia and Ineos
Quintana (twice) and Rigoberto Uran (once) have finished runner-up on the Tour de France, but finally Colombia have a winner.
Bernal left it late, moving onto the race summit after Friday’s dramatically aborted Stage 19 when freak landslides forced the organisers to stop the race with Bernal having attacked on the Col d’Iseran to finally crack the swashbuckling outgoing yellow jersey, Alaphilippe.
Saturday’s shortened Stage 20 to Val Thorens saw Bernal finish arm-in-arm with Ineos teammate Thomas as the pair secured a famous one-two for the British-based team.
Sir Dave Brailsford’s team has now won the last three editions of the Tour with three different riders - posing him something of a selection headache for the 2020 edition, when a recuperated Froome will hope to target a record-equalling fifth win.
For Bernal, victory in only his second Tour came earlier than many had expected. Having impressed in his debut last July when he rode to 15th place in support of Thomas and Froome, Bernal was given the nod for a tilt at the maglia rosa in May’s Giro d’Italia following his victory in Paris-Nice.
But a training crash in late April saw Bernal fracture his collarbone and ruled the Colombian out of the Giro. He returned on the top of his game, winning the Tour de Suisse after Thomas himself crashed out of the 10-day race in June.
And with Froome ruled out of the Tour after breaking his leg in the Criterium du Dauphine, the door was reopened for Bernal to make a second appearance in the race. The rest is now history.
Bernal was joined by compatriots Quintana and Uran - between then runners-up of the Tour in 2013, 2015 and 2017 - in the final top 10 to give Colombia yet more reasons to celebrate in the City of Lights.
French fade after lighting up 106th edition
The 106th edition of the Tour was one which gave the host nation good reason to believe that their 34-year winless streak could come to an end.
Formidable, exciting and attacking riding from French duo Thibaut Pinot and Alaphilippe - best encapsulated by their Stage 8 raid to Saint-Etienne which ensured a Bastille yellow jersey for Alaphilippe - set the nation’s pulses racing, and gave neutral fans something to cheer.
After years of Tours suffocated by Team Sky, the 2019 edition took on a different dynamic in Froome’s absence, with Alaphilippe winning early for the hosts with a pulsating attack into Epernay on Stage 3.
Despite attacking the race favourites on La Planche des Belles Filles in Stage 6, Alaphilippe lost the maillot jaune for a day before taking it back and extending his lead in the Pau time trial. In total, the livewire made light work of his lack of team support to notch 15 days in total before Bernal finally turned the screw.
Pinot, meanwhile, performed well in both time trials and triumphed atop the Tourmalet to make up for his losses in the crosswinds in Stage 10 to Albi. The Groupama-FDJ rider entered the Alps as the in-form climber and most likely successor to Alaphilippe’s yellow - but emotionally abandoned on Friday’s truncated stage after succumbing to a muscle strain sustained two days earlier.
With Pinot out and Alaphilippe out of yellow, there was some tonic supplied by Bardet, who emerged as the unlikely winner of the polka dot jersey, and Arkea-Samsic’s Warren Barguil, the French national champion who rose into the top 10 on the final climb of the race.
The race jury, however, rewarded Alaphilippe for his all-round panache by making him the Tour’s “super-combatif” - the most combative rider - which meant Alaphilippe tasted the podium in Paris after all.
As the wait for a French winner enters its 35th year, the performances of both Pinot and Alaphilippe will give the hosts hope that the drought will end sooner rather than later.
British glory kept in check after years of dominance
Britain’s run of six Tour wins in seven years was curtailed by defending champion Thomas missing out on a second successive win. If Team Ineos kept it in the family, so to speak, with victory for Bernal, then the 2019 Tour took on a very different blueprint for the British team.
Team Ineos rarely had their accustomed vice-like grip on the race even if, ultimately, they finished with riders in the top two positions.
It took until the penultimate stage in the Alps for Ineos to wrest the yellow jersey from the shoulders of a rider never considered a serious challenger prior to the race.
Bernal’s victory, like Froome’s fourth in 2017, came without a stage win; Ineos were indeed one of 14 teams not to pick up a victory over the three weeks - although Bernal will feel aggrieved by the weather which curtailed his chances of what would have been a fitting glory in Tignes.
But truth be told, Bernal’s win was an individual triumph over a weakened field. Thomas did offer strong support - and may have even won himself - but Ineos never had a strangehold on the race.
Michal Kwiatkowski and Wout Poels disappointed, Gianni Moscon was largely absent, and road captain Luke Rowe emulated Moscon to become the second rider from the team to be kicked off the race in as many years following his unsavoury spat with Germany’s Tony Martin.
And yet, next year Ineos will be strengthened by Froome’s return and the expected arrival of Giro winner Richard Carapaz of Ecuador.
How Brailsford will decide who leads his team next July is anyone’s guess; while an unprecedented one-two-three in Paris may appeal, it may be wiser to divide and conquer.
Away from the British team to British riders, it was a Tour of limited success in the absence of sprinter Mark Cavendish and regular uphill winner Froome.
But Steve Cummings (Dimension Data) was unable to get into any trademark breaks, while Alex Dowsett (Katusha-Alpecin) was largely anonymous.
It will be interesting to see if the likes of Thomas and Froome ever get another chance to win a Tour, and if Cavendish ever returns on the race where he has won 30 stages.