(AFP) – Tour de France champion-in-waiting Egan Bernal would never have made it to the yellow jersey without a daily whirlwind of work and the support of his father, girlfriend and childhood mentor, the Colombian said after his triumph in the Alps on Saturday.
The 22-year-old soared beyond all his rivals in the trilogy of brutal Alpine stages that ended the real action of the 2019 Tour ahead of a parade into Paris Sunday.
“It’s really special to have my girlfriend here,” said Bernal of his fiancee, Xiomy Guerrero, a day after he took the yellow jersey for the first time on the weather-hit ride which was stopped by hail and landslides before the Tignes finish line.
“She has been there since the start. Sometimes when preparing these big races we have to make huge sacrifices, and she has always been there for me,” he added.
Bernal then reeled off all the activities of a cyclists’ day, claiming he hardly had a second to think about himself or see his family.
“It’s team, team, team, get up, see the doctor, have breakfast, ride the race, get a massage, physio and sleep. Then repeat,” he said without cracking a smile.
“It’s special also with my dad,” he said of his father, a religious man who formerly worked as a caretaker of a cathedral carved into a salt mine in Colombia.
“He comes with me every day on my training in Colombia, he comes on a motorcycle and he’s the only one who knows how many kilometres I do and and all the effort I put in,” he said.
Bernal then turned to his childhood mentor Pablo Mazuera, who took him under his wing at the age of 12 when he was at a school for children from modest backgrounds.
Dedicating the victory to him, he said: “He was my first manager, my big boss.”
“For a while I stopped cycling but thanks to him I got back in the saddle, it’s his fault all this!” said Bernal. “When I wanted to quit cycling and go to university he said he would pay for my studies if I tried for another year,” he said.
Last year’s winner and fellow Ineos captain Geraint Thomas said Bernal’s success was down to the people around him.
“He’s got a really solid network to keep him grounded and support him,” Thomas said on Saturday. “I’m sure he’s got an amazing future,” said the 2018 champion. “Today is Egan’s day, an incredible, incredible performer.”
With journalists from his home country mobbing him and addressing him as champion, Bernal said: “I want to share this with all of Colombia too.”