Egan Bernal (Ineos) donned the “dream’ yellow jersey in the Tour de France today in Tignes but it came at the end of a “strange” day wrecked by hail and rain.
Race organiser cut the stage short at the top of the Iseran climb, taking the times there. Bernal was ahead, having already attacked, and had enough time to take the yellow jersey from Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quick-Step).
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“It’s incredible to be in the yellow jersey, a dream for me,” Bernal said. “There is a hard stage tomorrow with lots of tough climbing but I will now do everything that I can to hold on to this jersey until the race finishes in Paris.”
The Colombian is only 22 years old and only riding his second Grand Tour. If he were to win in 48 hours, he would be the youngest post-war winner and the first Colombian to do so.
He leads by 45 seconds over Alaphilippe and 1-11 over team-mate and 2018 winner Geraint Thomas.
The yellow jersey dream came under “strange” circumstances. The hot humid air changed to rain and hail, causing a mudslide and washed out roads covered with ice. The organiser made the decision to stop the stage as the riders raced down the Iseran. They could no longer pass to reach the final Tignes climb.
“I heard some words in English but I didn’t really understand what they were saying,” Bernal continued.
“I didn’t realise that they wanted us to stop. I asked them to repeat what they were saying in Spanish and it was only then that I really understood what was going on.”
The situation occurred in the valley near, 104km into the 126.5 stage, near Val d’Isere.
“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,” Bernal added.
“But now I’ve got the yellow jersey and it’s a dream for me. 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.”
Tomorrow, the race continues with stage 20, a summit finish to Val Thorens. It is the final test in the race before the parade sprint stage into Paris on Sunday.
Thomas would not attack, it is up to the others, explained Bernal.
Bernal took the gains thanks to an attack over the Galibier and down to Valloire on Friday. He moved ahead of Thomas but still behind Alaphilippe. Today, Thomas tried and then Bernal flew free and Alaphilippe faded.
“I thought he was outstanding, I think he’s been outstanding throughout the whole race to be honest,” team boss David Brailsford said.
“I think he was disappointed in his time trial [stage 13]. I think what he’s very, very good at and probably makes him so versatile really is he is good at racing on the flats as well as racing on the mountains and in the cross-winds or team time trial, he did a fantastic race.
“He always rides at the front, he always manages to hold himself in position at the front. And all of the climbs, on Prat d’Albis and the Tourmalet. I think he’s been very very consistent throughout the whole race, the best climber consistently throughout the whole race.”