Paris-Nice, episode 80: Egan Bernal
March 4 th 2022 - 12:00
Keeping a promise (X/X)
Since 1933, Paris–Nice has been the first major event of the season for the stars gunning for glory in stage races. The balance of power on the Promenade des Anglais or the Col d'Èze, depending on the season, gives us our first glimpse of where each Tour de France favourite stands. To mark the 80th edition, parisnice.fr is looking back on how the Race to the Sun shaped the careers of ten riders who shared a special bond with the event.
Egan Bernal has only entered Paris–Nice once, but his triumph at the start of the 2019 season heralded the first Colombian victory in the Tour de France.
Little Egan reaches for the stars
All eyes were on the young Colombian phenomenon when he lined up for the start of the 2019 edition in Saint-Germain-en-Laye. "Eganito" had come a long way since his first exploits on a mountain bike as a Junior rider. Already in the mix in the 2016 Tour de l'Avenir (fourth) at the tender age of 19, his real breakthrough came in 2018, when he signed for Team Sky. Runner-up to Primož Roglič in the Tour de Romandie, he grabbed his first WorldTour stage race in the 2018 Tour of California and went on to assist Geraint Thomas in his successful Tour de France campaign.
These performances dispelled any lingering doubts concerning his ability to step forward and don the leader's mantle. He started his first Race to the Sun with race number 71 pinned to the back of his jersey and lieutenants such as former winner Sergio Henao (2017) and Michał Kwiatkowski (second in 2015). Backed by his retinue, Bernal proved his mettle by surviving and even creating splits in the wind in the first two stages, followed by a solid performance in the time trial to Barbentane, near Avignon, which catapulted him to second place overall, behind his Polish stablemate. The Sky plan was in motion.
Merckx and Vatanen welcome a victorious Bernal on the Col de Turini
The big hope of the Colombian host was all confidence going into the weekend stages where the Alps meet the sea, which began with the queen stage to the Col de Turini, at 1,607 masl. Quite a few mountain goats from the South American plateaus were eyeing this stage and, in the end, it was Daniel Martínez who outgunned "Superman" López and raised his arms in victory. Yet the big winner in the fight for the title was Bernal, who stuck to the wheel of his mentor and main rival, Nairo Quintana, as "Kwiato" got dropped in the final two k. Two champions of a bygone era, Ari Vatanen and Eddy Merckx, were waiting at the summit to award him the yellow and white jersey.
The new boss of the race stayed on top of things in the closing stage to add his name to the list of winners at the tender age of 22, a few months shy of René Vietto's record in 1935. Standing atop the podium on the Promenade des Anglais without a single stage win to his name, Bernal had come up with a winning formula that extended to the month of July, when he also crossed the finish line of the Tour on the Champs-Élysées without taking a single stage along the way. The stage wins will have to wait.