Glory for Bernal as Ineos secure GC one-two, Nibali wins Stage 20
Egan Bernal will be crowned Colombia’s first ever winner of the Tour de France in Paris on Sunday after coming through a truncated Stage 20 unscathed as Italy’s Vincenzo Nibali soloed to victory in the ski resort of Val Thorens.
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The defending champion and champion elect came home together as Bernal crossed the line arm in arm with Ineos team-mate Geraint Thomas for fourth place on the last competitive stage of the race to confirm Colombia’s first yellow jersey.
Bernal will lead an Ineos one-two in the 106th edition of the Tour with Welshman Thomas 1’11” down on his team-mate ahead of Sunday’s processional stage into Paris.
The Ineos duo will be joined by Dutchman Steven Kruijswijk (Jumbo-Visma) on the final podium after Frenchman Julian Alaphilippe - who wore the yellow jersey with passion, pride and panache for 15 glorious days - crumbled on the interminable 34km climb to the finish.
The elastic having finally snapped, Deceuninck-QuickStep’s Alaphilippe battled to limit his losses but crossed the finish line more than three minutes down on Nibali to drop from second to fifth in the overall standings.
Germany’s Emanuel Buchmann (Bora-Hansgrohe) finished alongside his rivals to secure fourth place in the standings, while French champion Warren Barguil (Arkea-Samsic) moved into 10th place at the expense of Australia’s Richie Porte (Trek-Segafredo).
Nibali, the 2014 Tour champion, picked up the sixth Tour stage win of his career - and the first since 2015 - after winning the shortened 59km stage from Albertville from the breakaway. Landslides blocking the two scheduled early climbs had knocked 71km off the planned route, with the final climb to Val Thorens the only (albeit not inconsiderable) test of the day.
The Sicilian was the last man standing of the 29-man move and held on to a race-saving victory by 10 seconds over world champion Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) after the Spanish veteran zipped past team-mate Mikel Landa on the home straight but left it too late to reel in Nibali.
Bernal and Thomas crossed the line all smiles seven seconds later for fourth and fifth, this year’s yellow and last year’s yellow embracing as they made history.
Twenty-two-year-old Bernal, the youngest remaining rider in the race, will become the youngest post-War winner of cycling’s biggest bike race on Sunday. He will also be the fourth rider to win with the British Ineos - formerly Sky - team since 2012 following victories from Bradley Wiggins, Chris Froome (four) and Thomas.
"It’s incredible, I’m still struggling to understand things. I can’t wait to cross the finish line in Paris and understand what I’ve achieved," Bernal said.
" I imagine everyone is going crazy in Colombia. This is a historic moment for our country, so I’m happy. This is a dream come true. I watched the Tour on television and dreamt about winning it. Now my dream has come true, so I’m feeling so many different emotions."
Following the emotional abandonment of Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) on Friday and Alaphilippe’s disappearance from the final podium, there was some good news for the host nation as Romain Bardet (Ag2R-La Mondiale) managed to hold onto the polka dot jersey.
Despite coming home off the pace in 27th place, Bardet finished with eight more KOM points than Bernal, the Frenchman saved by the early neutralisation of Friday’s Stage 19th which deprived the Colombian the chance of both winning the stage and pocketing the 10 points which would have made the difference.
Bernal did double up, however, with the white jersey as the race’s best young rider, while Slovakian showman Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) secured a record-breaking seventh green jersey with a trademark wheelie - his 83-point lead on Italy’s Elia Viviani unable to be overturned on the Champs-Elysees.
Movistar will once again win the team classification after placing their GC men - Valverde, Landa and Stage 18 winner Nairo Quintana - in the lower echelons of the top 10.
Stage 20: Albertville to Val Thorens - how it happened
With just 59 largely uphill kilometres on the agenda, the penultimate stage of the race got off to an active start as six riders zipped clear, soon to be joined by another 23 escapees on the false flat up the valley to Moutiers.
The break held a gap of over two minutes as the race hit the only climb, the mammoth 34km rise to Val Thorens. It was the Jumbo-Visma team of Kruijswijk who set the tempo on the front of the pack, hoping to pile on the requisite pressure that would see the Dutchman leapfrog Alaphilippe onto the final podium.
New Zealander George Bennett and Belgian Laurens De Plus set an infernal tempo as the pack was whittled down and the escapees were caught one by one.
Up ahead, a select five-man group had formed around Nibali, and included Canada’s Michael Woods (EF Education First), Russia’s Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha-Alpecin) and Frenchmen Tony Gallopin (AG2R-La Mondiale) and Pierre-Luc Perichon (Cofidis).
Of all the teams represented, only Nibali’s Bahrain Merida had tasted victory over the previous three weeks in France; the Italian’s attack with 12km remaining ensured it would stay that way.
But all eyes were not on Nibali but the back of the main pack where Alaphilippe was dying a thousand deaths, the Frenchman dropped with 13.5km remaining.
Alaphilippe was joined by his Spanish team-mate Enric Mas and the fading polka dot jersey of compatriot Bardet as the gap continued to grow under the pace of Jumbo-Visma.
Yates was joined by Quintana - also a possible polka dot jersey winner - and the French champion Barguil. But it was Quintana’s teammate Marc Soler who managed to ride clear inside the final 5km.
Nibali maintained a lead of around 30 seconds entering the final few kilometres while the battle of attrition continued behind. And it was not until the final 500 metres until Landa put in an attack that broke the Ineos train: all too little, too late.
With Nibali preparing to celebrate a sixth Tour stage win - and a second for Bahrain Merida this year following Dylan Teuns’s victory on La Planche des Belles Filles - veteran Valverde put in a bizarre throwaway attack to reel in his team-mate.
But this was all immaterial, for the focus was on the tender embrace between the outgoing Tour champion and the new maillot jaune as Thomas congratulated Bernal as the Ineos duo came home all smiles.
"I think this was a good day, an amazing day,” Thomas said. “To defend the jersey with Egan, and the way we fought through it, both of us. It feels like it’s been one thing after another with me, but it was great that Egan took the jersey yesterday."
"I was a bit frustrated at the end. I wanted to chase Nibali but at the same time Kruijswijk was so close to me [on GC].
"If we brought Nibali back and Kruijswijk won the stage and put three seconds into me, I would have lost second spot on the GC. As it turns out, I was good and he wasn’t quite so good, but hindsight is a wonderful thing, isn’t it?"
Coming up: Stage 21 - Rambuillet to Paris
The final 128km processional stage into the French capital does feature two Cat.4 climbs - but with the polka dot jersey battle sewn up, it will be the usual champagne-fuelled photo shoot for Bernal and his Ineos team-mates on the ride into Paris.
Once in the city centre, the race will hot up with eight laps of the famous circuit on the Champs-Elysees, with a bunch sprint expected to feature the likes of Caleb Ewan, Elia Viviani, Dylan Groenewegen and the man in green, Sagan.