In the thin, chilly air of Val Thorens ski station, Dave Brailsford might have allowed himself a wry smile as he watched his new Tour de France champion, Egan Bernal, and last year’s model, Geraint Thomas, embrace. Only six months ago, Brailsford was looking for a sponsor for his super team, and fighting to hang on to his big names, after Sky unexpectedly opted to end its relationship with cycling.
Many doubted if Brailsford could keep his all-star team together, and if he could ever replace the big-money sponsorship that had led to accusations of him “buying” success in the Tour, no less than six times between 2012 and 2018. There were those too, who viewed him as damaged goods, in the aftermath of Team Sky’s flawed zero-tolerance policy, the fudged salbutamol investigation into Chris Froome and the damning verdict of a House of Commons select committee into anti-doping.
Yet he now has bagged a seventh Tour. Despite the numerous criticisms, the loss of Chris Froome through injury, the huffing and puffing of the French, “Teflon Dave” has done it again. Brailsford’s ability to “reach into the toilet and pull out chocolate,” as rival manager Jonathan Vaughters once put it, has seen him through with a new sponsor and a new Tour de France champion – his team’s fourth since 2012 – in Bernal.
The 22-year-old Colombian’s win was sealed at altitude in Val Thorens, after Julian Alaphilippe cracked and the Jumbo-Visma team’s best efforts to set up a last-ditch bid by Steven Kruijswijk to claw his way on to the podium finally dislodged the Frenchman.
Bernal remained in a state of disbelief, even when presented with the yellow jersey for the second day running. “I’m really happy,” he said, “but when we arrive at the hotel and I’m alone, maybe then I will believe it.”
“It’s our first Tour, so you can imagine the reaction,” Bernal said when asked what it meant to his home nation. “I think it’s really important for us. I’m really proud to be the first Colombian to win the Tour.”
The final mountain stage, truncated and missing two major climbs due to continuing severe weather and landslides in the Alps, effectively became a team time trial to the 2,365-metre ski station, while the final outcome boiled down to a heavyweight bout between the Tour’s best climbers.