1 last, but big, obstacle for Bernal at Tour
VAL THORENS, France (AP) — One last but big obstacle stands between Colombian Egan Bernal and his first Tour de France victory, a landslide-shortened Stage 20 to the ski station of Val Thorens on Saturday.
At 22, Bernal will become the youngest post-World War II winner of the Tour if he holds his own on the ascent, the last competitive racing before the largely processional ride to the finish on the Champs-Elysees in Paris on Sunday.
"It's crazy, this is the biggest event in the world, a childhood dream," Bernal said before the start of the stage trimmed to just 59 kilometers (37 miles) and shorn of two of its planned three climbs because of landslides and what organizers feared would be more hostile weather.
"Tere are 60 kilometers left. I want to tackle that climb well. One more hour and half of suffering, then I could maybe say that I won the Tour," Bernal said.
A cycling star in the making, Bernal took the race lead Friday when Stage 19 was dramatically cut short by a landslide across the route to the Alpine ski station of Tignes and by a violent hailstorm that made road conditions too icy for riders racing on two wheels barely wider than their thumbs.
He'd flown away from Julian Alaphilippe, the punchy French rider who did more than anyone to make this Tour the most exciting in decades and held the race lead for 14 days, on a super-difficult climb to the highest mountain pass of this race, the Iseran at 2,770 meters (9,090 feet) above sea level.
When the race was then stopped with Bernal racing away on the downhill, organizers decided the riders' timings to the top of the Iseran climb would be used to determine the overall standings.
And that put Bernal in yellow and on course to become the first Colombian to win the Tour.
The final climb to Val Thorens, although long at 33 kilometers (21 miles) and rising to an altitude of 2,365 meters (7,760 feet), isn't likely to prove hard enough for Bernal to crack and lose the 48-second lead he now holds over Alaphilippe.
Despite losing the yellow jersey, Alaphilippe is still relishing the two weeks he wore it for, setting the Tour alight with his attacks and making France dream of its first winner since Bernard Hinault in 1985.
"It was really incredible, Alaphilippe said Saturday. "I'll not forget the public support."
If he wins, Bernal will achieve a feat unmatched by the Tour's greatest champions — five-time winners Eddy Merckx, Jacques Anquetil, Hinault and Miguel Indurain — who were all older when they first won.
Bernal has also proved stronger than defending champion Geraint Thomas, his teammate at Ineos who threw his weight behind the Colombian heading into the penultimate stage.
"Well this has been some race!! Just 60km left. Let's get @Eganbernal to Paris in yellow," Thomas tweeted.
Torrential rains that turned the climb to Val Thorens into a river on Saturday morning prompted a late decision from organizers to close the route to the Tour's caravan of publicity floats that usually rolls along distributing gifts each day a couple of hours ahead of the riders.
Instead, the caravan was staying in Albertville, the stage start.
Spectators who lined the Val Thorens ascent and its hairpin climbs shivered under umbrellas and coats as bolts of lightning lit up the mountains. But the storm later abated, with clearing skies replacing what had been chilly, damp weather
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