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Just a few days after leaving isolation due to a positive Covid-19 infection, Egan Bernal has celebrated his freedom by meeting the Pope.
The recent winner of the Giro d’Italia met the head of the Catholic church in the Vatican City on Wednesday morning, gifting Pope Francis with a pink jersey and a Pinarello bike decked in the colours of Argentina, the pontiff’s country of birth.
Bernal, a Catholic himself who said that he prays to God before important stages, said the meeting was the greatest thing to have occurred to him, more so than winning the Giro or the Tour de France in 2019.
“This is more important than winning the Giro and the Tour,” Bernal said. “I think I’ve had many experiences in my life, but this is unique. It’s the most beautiful experience I have had in my life.
“My family is Catholic and I am Catholic and I never expected his presence like this. It was an incredible moment. I am very happy with what I’ve just experienced.”
Bernal, however, admitted to being nervous. “This was a million times more stressful than an important stage because I didn’t know what I was going to say to him,” he revealed.
“I had some words prepared but I was very nervous, although once we started to speak it became easier.”
Bernal, who will now return to Colombia to celebrate his victory in the Giro, added that the Pope asked him how many coffees he drinks to be able to climb so strongly.
The gifts he presented the Pope were “from all Colombians because right now they need your blessing,” referring to the social protests and Covid-19 that is affecting Bernal’s home country.
The Ineos Grenadiers rider met the Pope with his girlfriend María Fernanda Motas, joining the list of figures from cycling to have been blessed by the Argentinian.
In 2018, Peter Sagan visited the Pope and gifted him a rainbow jersey and a customised Specialized bike that was later auctioned off to charity. Sagan described the Pope as “cool”.
In 2019, UCI president David Lappartient met the Pope who later gave his reflections on the sport.
"If we consider road cycling we can see how the whole team works together during the races: the support riders, the sprinters, the climbers," he said.
"They often have to sacrifice themselves for the leader, and when a teammate experiences difficulty it is the other teammates who show support and accompaniment.
"In life too, it is necessary to cultivate a spirit of selflessness, generosity and community in order to help those who have fallen behind and who need help to achieve a certain goal.”
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