Colombia’s Egan Bernal (Team Ineos) successfully defended the yellow jersey in Tour de France Stage 20 during the third and final stage at Val Thorens in the Alps that was won by Italy’s Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain Merida). With one final stage remaining in Paris on Sunday, Bernal locked up the 2019 Tour de France.
Due to mudslides, which cancelled Stage 19, Tour de France organizers decided to modify Stage 20. They trimmed the original course of 130 km down to 59 km. Despite a torrential downpour on Saturday morning, the stage still ended with a summit finish at Val Thorens.
Vincenzo Nibali won the Tour de France in 2014. He experienced a rough and disappointing race this year. Nibali saved face with a stage victory during one of the most-difficult rides in the three week race.
“I suffered but it’s great to win,” said Nobali. “It wasn’t easy for me after the fatigue of the Giro d’Italia. I tried to do the GC but exploded. There was a lot of criticism and I thought about going home but I fought to honor the Tour de France.”
STAGE 20 STANDINGS:
Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain Merida) 1:51:53
Alejandro Valverde (Movistar Team) +0:10
Mikel Landa (Movistar Team) +0:14
Egan Bernal (Team Ineos) +0:17
Geraint Thomas (Team Ineos) +0:17
Stage 20: Val Thorens
Poor weather is a part of the Tour de France every year. It didn’t become a factor until the last two stages. An ice storm caused mudslides and wiped out Stage 19 from Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne to Tignes.
On Saturday, the bad weather forced organizers to scramble. They made a tough but simple compromise and skipped the first 70 km of the race. Instead of a 130 km stage, the riders faced only a 59 km ride. But it happened to be the most difficult of the chosen course due to the difficult climbing Val Thorens.
You will not see any trees on the climb to the top of Val Thorens because it is above the tree line at 2,365 meters above sea level. The final stage in the Alps would test the riders with one final category H climb.
The tough mountains did not faze Egan Bernal. As Phil Liggett said it best, “Bernal loves the mountains. The bigger the mountain, the better he gets.”
None of the GC leaders could catch Vincenzo Nibali, but they came close. Thomas and Bernal finished only 17 seconds behind the Italian former champ. More importantly, they finished ahead of Alaphilippe and their closest challengers in Steve Kruijswijk and Emanuel Buchmann.
Julian Alaphilippe cracked on the climb and fell behind by several minutes. He tumbled to fifth overall and lost nearly three minutes against Bernal.
On Deck: Stage 21 Paris
The final stage is more of a formality these days. Gone are the days when Greg Lemond beat out Laurent Fignon on the final stage to win a yellow jersey thirty years ago.
Stage 21 is a leisurely pace of 128 km from Rambouillet to the Champs-Elysees with lots of liquor involved upon arrival in the City of Lights.
“I cannot believe I am about to win my first Tour,” Bernal said in a press conference. “I just want to get across the line tomorrow in Paris, it’s going to be a big honor to win the first Tour for Colombia.”
OVERALL STANDINGS (Thru Stage 20):
Egan Bernal (Team Ineos) 79:52:52
Geraint Thomas (Team Ineos) +1:11
Steve Kruijswijk (Jumbo-Visma) +1:31
Emmanuel Buchmann (Bora-Hansgrohe) +1:56
Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quick Step) +3:45
Team Ineos will finish with the top two riders and the former Sky squad will have yet another champion. Defending champion Geraint Thomas is currently in second and 1:11 behind his Ineos teammate Egan Bernal.
Steve Kruijswijk (Jumbo-Visma) moved into third overall or 91 seconds off the leader.