Colombian Egan Bernal: First Latin American Tour de France Winner
This is how Egan Bernal became the first Latin American champion of the Tour de France on July 28, 2019.
It’s the last day of the race. He pedals his last 79 of the whopping 2,150 miles (3,460 kilometers) he’s pedaled over the last month. He isn’t pedaling alone; a large group of cyclists is nearby.
The hot summer sun beats down as he finds his way inside the fleet of cyclists. The 81 hours he’d pedaled in the last month had taken a toll on his legs, but he keeps pushing for that one last bit.
His heart is pumping as the finish line gets closer and closer. The hopes and dreams of his country—and continent—are with him as he crosses the finish line and wins first place!
As Egan Bernal stands in ecstasy before the Arc de Triomphe and a huge crowd cheering his name, the Colombian national anthem sounds through the streets of Paris. At 22, he has given glory to all of Latin America.
What Led Egan Bernal to This Win?
Egan Bernal is a 24-year-old Colombian cyclist. He was born in Zipaquirá, 18 miles from the capital city of Bogotá, on January 13, 1997.
His homeland was at a high altitude, between 8,860 and 11,150 feet above sea level. Egan Bernal started riding his first bicycle at age 5 and learned how to be a cross-country cyclist from an early age.
In 2005, Egan Bernal won his first competition. Since then he always seemed to want more and more. As soon as he got a trophy, he would already be thinking about the next one he could get.
Professional Bicycling Competitions
By 2011, when Bernal was 14 years old, he started competing professionally. His coach, Pablo Mazuera, took Bernal to compete throughout Colombia and internationally.
2013 brought four victories for Bernal at age 16. After winning the Panamerican Championship in Argentina, he was crowned national junior champion in Ecuador, Argentina, and Colombia.
However, the young Colombian almost quit cycling that year to start studying journalism. Thanks to his coach, who pushed him further and even offered to pay for his journalism studies if cycling didn’t work out, Egan Bernal didn’t give up the sport and became a champion.
In 2014, Egan Bernal won silver and bronze medals in Norway, Brazil, and the U.S. He earned a gold medal in Costa Rica, and his star began to rise.
In 2015, Egan Bernal suffered an accident which led to a broken collarbone. But not even that stopped the young Colombian cyclist from dominating. After winning two gold medals in Colombia and California, the 18-year-old aimed for one more. At the UCI Mountain Bike World Championships, he took third place.
The young Colombian moved to the small Northern Italian town of Courgné, 30 miles from Turin, where he started training in cross country and road bicycle racing. This would eventually be the formula for Bernal to conquer the world of cycling.
Gianni Salvio, owner of the Androlli Giocattolli-Sidermec team offered him a 4-year deal to sign for his team after Bernal won a competition in Italy. This deal had Bernal switch from cross country cycling to road bicycle racing.
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Egan Bernal got a contract from Sky Team, one of the biggest names in the cycling world. He finished 2017 racing for the Italian team and started racing for Sky the following year.
In 2018 the Colombian circled the world to start competing in Australia in which he achieved a 6th place. In March, he was set to compete in one of his first big events ever, La Vuelta a Cataluña (the lap to Catalonia).
He was about to achieve second place, but unluckily he fell off the bike. Along with his hopes and dreams, his collarbone and scapula broke. By April, however, he was already racing in Switzerland, where he placed second.
In May 2018, he conquered the tour in California and was consequently appointed to participate in his first Tour de France ever at age 21. As the youngest competitor in the race, and after having suffered numerous accidents, he achieved 15th place overall.
He started 2019 with a bronze medal win in Colombia. In March, he competed in the Paris-Nice competition. He won third place in La Vuelta a Cataluña, in which he had fractured his collarbone the year prior.
A week before competing in Il Giro D’Italia, Egan broke his collarbone yet again and was not able to participate in the Italian competition.
Tour de France 2019
The Tour de France is a 2,150-mile race divided into 21 stages (or individual races). In 2019,
Frenchman Julian Alaphilippe was the favorite to conquer the tour, and for 14 stages he did so. In the 15th stage however, while in the Pyrenees, Egan Bernal finished in 5th place and closed in on Alaphilippe.
During the 18th stage, the Colombian finished in 8th place, which skyrocketed him to 2nd place overall. He was breathing down the neck of Alaphilippe, and building Colombia’s and Latin America’s hopes and dreams.
During the 19th stage was cancelled due to bad weather, Bernal managed earn the yellow jersey which meant that he was the new leader of the Tour de France. In the 20th stage, he kept his lead and held on to the yellow jersey.
In the 21st and final stage, he crossed the line with a total time of 82 hours, 57 minutes! The only two other Latin Americans in the top 20 were Colombians Rigoberto Urán and Nairo Quintana, who finished in 7th and 8th place, respectively.
Hear the euphoric commentary of the Argentinian Mario Sabato while he narrates the last kilometer before Egan Bernal becomes the winner of Tour de France.
After the race, Egan Bernal stepped onto the podium twice. The first time to receive a white jersey which represented that he was the best young rider. The second was when he stepped onto the podium on the Champs Elysées with the Arc du Triomphe at his back. The Colombian ambassador to France congratulated him as he received the yellow jersey, and his friends, family, and fans in France cheered his name while waving flags euphoric for the young Colombian.
Hear Egan Bernal’s acceptance speech in four languages (English, Spanish, Italian, and French) shortly after the Colombian anthem sounded in Paris.
He confessed to EFE that if he hadn’t fallen prior to the race and broken his collarbone, which forced him not to compete in the Giro D’Italia that year, he wouldn’t have won the Tour de France.
Glory at Home
In Egan Bernal’s hometown of Zipaquirá, the mayor had a mural painted of the athlete’s face to honor the champion. Employees of companies and factories stopped working to watch Bernal cross the finish line, and the happiness in this town was just a sample of what was happening all around Colombia that day.
2021: Another Great Victory
One year, ten months and two days after having won the Tour de France the Colombian climbed over the podium again and heard the Colombian national anthem once more, according to El Tiempo.
The now 24-year-old Colombian climbed the podium in Italy on May 30, 2021 on his first participation in the Giro D’Italia. Being the third-ever Latin American to conquer the Italian competition and wear “la maglia rosa” (the pink jersey in Italian) awarded to the leader of the tour.
Watch Egan Bernal conquering his second major competition as he rode the very last kilometer of the competition.
The only thing left for Egan Bernal to do is to conquer La Vuelta a España for him to be the only Latin American to have conquered the three major cycling tournaments. Do you think he’ll be able to achieve it?
Pedal Your Way to Fluent Spanish!
Remember how Egan Bernal thanked in four different languages? What’s his secret? Exactly the same as his secret of winning the Tour de France—practice, practice, practice!
According to the US Department of State, it takes the average English learner 575-600 class hours to become fluent in Spanish. Now that’s a lot of practice!
Are you ready to practice your conversational Spanis skills to prepare for your upcoming trip to Zipaquirá, Colombia where it all began for Egan Bernal? Learn with one of our friendly Guatemalan teachers. Sign up for a free trial class today!
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