Words by Jessica Rodriguez

Most men use their 20s to finish an academic degree, launch a career or start a family. Egan Bernal is not one of those men. At 22-years-old Bernal was taking his victory lap into Paris as the winner of the 2019 Tour de France. 

Competing in the grueling 2,200 mile race that runs through most of France is like climbing Mt. Everest, an idea and nothing more. Except for Bernal. He has been training for this lifetime event since he began racing. Bernal’s training paid off in spades. The now 23-year-old Colombian is the youngest person to win the race in over a century. He is also the third youngest person to ever win the race and the first South American to boot. This win is an even bigger feat considering the treacherous conditions Bernal faced including hail storms and landslides over the race’s 23 days.

Bernal’s passion for cycling is in his DNA. His father German was an avid, amateur cyclist. When Bernal was just five-years-old German bought him a used bicycle and taught him how to ride. With pedals for wings, Bernal’s purpose took flight.  The sinuous 5’9” biker was born in Bogota and raised in Zipaquirá just outside of the major city with his father, mother Flor and siblings. The open road came calling early. As a youngster Bernal entered and won a bike competition. The prize was a bike training scholarship. He embraced the opportunity and started to compete in mountain biking and road racing events across Europe and the Americas.

In 2015 he won awards in the UCI Mountain Bike World Championships and other youth competitions. These early wins caught the attention of professional cycling teams that noticed his speed and ability to withstand rough terrain. In 2016 Bernal went pro when he signed with Androni Giocattoli-Sidermec. 

Three teams later, he is now part of UCI WorldTeam Team Ineos. This new home squad launched Bernal to a new level of competition. The powerhouse team has won the Tour de France for eight straight years. Despite switching teams, 2017 and 2018 helped Bernal build momentum. He won major races including Colombia Oro y Paz, Sibiu Cycling Tour and Tour of California. It culminated with Ineos when he rode his first Tour de France as part of their team in 2018.

Before Bernal, Colombia was a country of untapped potential that had flashes of greatness but no champions. According to the cycling industry, Colombia had an up and coming field of talent in the 1980s.

Its altitude and mountainous terrain were ideal training ground for race courses like the Tour that run through mountain ranges. But the country’s political crisis, economic issues and cartel wars made training unsafe. Few riders went pro on the international circuit. “We’ve had many great cyclists over the years, but for one reason or another, we never won,” Bernal said during an interview with VeloNews. “This yellow jersey belongs to all those great Colombian cyclists who came before me.”

Earning a yellow jersey from the tour de France was a personal and patriotic dream realized for Egan Bernal. “It is just incredible,” said Bernal during a post-race interview. “It’s just always something I’ve dreamt of..” he broke off mid-sentence before bursting into tears, overcome by the weight of the moment.

“As a cyclist you’re always going to want a little more,” he said at the post-win press conference in July. He is set to co-lead the Tour de France team in 2020 with Geraint Thomas for Team Ineos. At press time the world learned that Bernal was awarded the LAureus Sport World Sports Award, an honor that few people receive. With this mindset it’s clear that for Egan Bernal – career and accomplishments, are only just beginning.