ZIPAQUIRA, BALIPOST.com – Tour de France champion Egan Bernal was given a hero’s welcome by around 10,000 people as he returned to his home town of Zipaquira on Wednesday to celebrate his historic achievement.
The pint-sized 22-year-old climber became last month the first Colombian to win cycling’s most prestigious race in only his second participation.
“I’ll never forget seeing so many people gathered for me,” said the Team Ineos rider from a stage on Zipaquira’s central square where fans and well-wishers had started gathering from 5:00 am on what was also the 200th anniversary of Colombia’s independence.
“Everything happened so fast that until now, when I see you there, I’m only just starting to realize what this meant for Colombia,” he told the cheering crowds.
“And the truth is that it makes me very proud to be able to give something to society and to give Colombia hope.”
Bernal had arrived back in Bogota on Monday after competing in a series of European criteriums following his Tour win.
He was transferred by police helicopter the 46 kilometers (29 miles) from the capital to his home town but there he shunned an ostentatious parade through Zipaquira in favor of a simple podium on the central square.
And while the man he replaced as Tour champion, his Welsh teammate Geraint Thomas has predicted he will win 10 more Tour titles, Bernal remained humble to his core.
“It was my dream to win the Tour de France and now I’ve done it,” he said.
“I’m not sure I’ll be able to win it again … what I want is to continue enjoying climbing on my bike.”
He was the third youngest Tour winner in history and the youngest since 1909, leading many to predict a glorious future in which he challenges the record five victories of greats such as Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault and Miguel Indurain.
“Winning the Tour is very difficult, I can’t imagine winning five,” he said. “Hopefully, but if not, I’ll still feel happy because I gave something to Colombia.” (AFP)