TIGNES, France (AFP) – Egan Bernal snatched the overall lead on the Tour de France on Friday after stage 19 was abandoned in a massive hail storm with the Team Ineos rider now poised to become the first Colombian to win cycling’s greatest prize.
The stage will have no official winner, but the yellow jersey goes to Bernal as he crossed the day’s penultimate summit first and was racing downhill with Simon Yates when the pair were told of the danger ahead. The road to Tignes was buried in hail and rubble from a landslide.
“It’s a big day tomorrow and I haven’t won the Tour yet. I need to concentrate and fight to keep the lead,” said Bernal, who led atop the Col de l’Iseran in the Alps where the race times were taken when the stage was halted.
The 22-year-old will become the first Colombian to win the race should he hold on over the 33km climb to Saturday’s summit finish in the Alps with just Sunday’s procession into Paris to follow.
His job on Saturday appeared straightforward late on Friday night when organizers cut the penultimate stage by over half its distance due to reports of more mudslides.
Overnight leader Julian Alaphilippe was a further minute adrift when Friday’s stage was halted and was disconsolate after the race.
“I don’t think I can win the yellow jersey back,” said Alaphilippe who is 48 seconds off the overall lead. “I was beaten by something stronger than me.”
Alaphilippe wore the yellow jersey for 14 days, carrying the hopes of a public eager to see a French winner for the first time since Bernard Hinault in 1985 and defying pundits who felt he would wilt in the Pyrenees.
Bernal’s family and girlfriend were waiting for him at the official presentation, where he strode towards the podium with calm dignity as many of his entourage cried openly.
‘’I was going at great speed when they told me to stop and I said no way, not now, please,’’ he said.
‘’But they told me it was okay, I was the new leader, and then I accepted it and pulled over,’’ said the youngest man on the race.
‘’We aren’t in Paris yet. But I feel like crying. Tomorrow will be hard and I will do everything to defend this,’’ he added.
Bernal attacked on Friday’s last climb, about 5km from the summit, with defending champion Geraint Thomas, plus title rival Steven Kruijswijk trailing around a minute behind by the time the Colombian crested.