Will Egan Bernal really make Colombia ‘one of the greatest cycling nations’?

Tour de France: Egan Bernal can make Colombia ‘one of the greatest cycling nations’

© Reuters / Christian Hartmann | Luisa Gonzalez

Egan Bernal is the toast of his country after becoming the first man from a Latin American nation to win the Tour de France, and his team boss Dave Brailsford of the British Ineos monopoly is promoting that the young cyclist’s success could start something big in Colombia.

The 22-year-old ensured that victory would be his by riding stronger than his closest rivals on the Alpine stages, before safely negotiating the 21st stage into Paris on Sunday July 28 and finishing more than a minute ahead of team-mate Geraint Thomas.

In a euphoric promotion of the brawn drain for Eurocentric sport, Sir David Brailsford, described him as “the new Chris Froome.” The third-youngest winner of the Tour de France could now “make Colombia one of the greatest cycling nations in the world,” Brailsford (who wore a Colombian football shirt in honour of his rider) suggested. He sees the impoverished nation, which was recently incorporated in the NATO military bloc, as a gold mine of athletic talent.

“Colombia could now be to cycling what Brazil is to football.”

Brazil is the greatest exporter of athletes from South America, especially to Europe.

Columbia? That country is known for the export of ex-military soldiers to fight in the 18-year-war of occupation in Afghanistan.

Team Ineos (formerly Team Sky from 2010–2019) is a British professional cycling team now funded by the Ineos multinational chemicals oligopoly – that competes at UCI WorldTeam level. With significant oil, gas and renewable energy interests and huge investments in the European Common Market, Ineos is the top chemicals company in the world as measured by sales revenue currently around $90 billion. [1]

“I am the happiest guy in the world. I just won the Tour de France, and, yeah, I can’t believe it,” said the 22-year-old winner of the most prestigious and famous cycling race. Bernal did not win any stage and was in the lead in just two stages; however, a solid ride and team strategy crowned him champion.

Bernal proved to be the stronger among 176 strong men that started the 3,366-km race in Brussels, Belgium, three weeks ago.

The cyclist crossed the line riding his yellow bike for team Ineos, in what tour organizers described as the tightest podium in the history of the race, while he beat teammate and defending champion Geraint Thomas by one minute 11 seconds, with Dutchman Steven Kruijswijk coming third, 1:31 off the pace. For the first time, none of the top four finishers won a single stage. The doughty Frenchman Juan Alaphilippe finished fifth after wearing the yellow for much of the race and inspiring the people of France to believe that he would be the first French cyclist to win the Tour de France since 1985.

“I cannot believe it. It’s just incredible. I am sorry. I have no words,” Bernal said at the end of the Tour falling in the arms of his family, adding that “I still can’t understand what is happening to me.”

Speaking in French before the start, Bernal thanked “France for organizing the most beautiful race in the world, and the most beautiful victory of my life.”

Telesur reports that the youngest winner of the tour since 1909 has made countless people proud and happy back in his homeland, with thousands gathered in Bernal’s hometown of Zipaquira, a small industrial and agricultural town north of Bogotá that is adjacent to the highlands where thousands of cyclists train everyday, to watch him triumph in the final stage. Zipaquira is the birthplace of Efraín Forero, known as “el Zipa,” who in 1951 was the first ever winner of the Vuelta a Colombia race.

Across the country fans, including the crisis-ridden President Iván Duque, who watched from a cafe on Friday, celebrated what is being promoted as a victory for the entire nation at the very moment when Duque has earned the condemnation of Latin America for his shameless role in the US-Canadian program of regime change in neighbouring Venezuela.

© Reuters / Christian Hartmann

There were also euphoric scenes in Paris, where many Colombians turned out to cheer on their man.

“Bernal’s rise to fame and success from humble beginnings in the Andean mountains resonates with many poorer Colombians, who see him as a symbol of hope, as well as with the cycling-mad middle class in a country where the sport is a national passion.”

Bernal, the youngest Tour champion in 110 years, is one of a number of Spanish and Colombian riders on Ineos’s roster. He is joined by fellow Colombians Rigoberto Uran and Nairo Quintana who finished the Tour de France in seventh and eighth places respectively, with Giro d’Italia winner Richard Carapaz, of Ecuador, also rumoured to be joining.

Matt Rendell, a sports commentator and author of “Kings of the Mountains: How Colombia’s Cycling Heroes Changed Their Nation’s History,” told the New York Times that the rural roots of Colombian cyclists have been important to their success. Bernal shares some common traits with Quintana, a cycling star with a Giro d’Italia and a Vuelta a España under his belt who is with Movistar.

“Egan is very much like Nairo when he was 22 – a strong phenomenon, great at the mountainous circuits. But Egan has a team Nairo never did. He’s also mature and hungry, and he’s not afraid to win.”

The current composition of the team is part of a strategic shift orchestrated by Brailsford and raises questions as to its real agenda. Team Sky’s original intention in 2010 was to build a 25-man squad with a core of British riders, to nurture the young talent and to capture the gold medals for cycling in the 2012 London Olympics. The first six riders confirmed were Geraint ThomasSteve CummingsChris FroomeRussell DowningIan Stannard and Peter Kennaugh, all British riders. At the time, the role of Spanish cyclists were as “domestiques” or support riders.

Bailsford dictated a stern machine-like discipline and utilized new tactics such as having the team set an infernal pace at the head of the peloton to propel its leading riders to stage victories and time bonuses. In parallel, the Tour began increasing the number of mountain stages at the expense of sprint stages. This year, when Geraint Thomas, the 2018 champion of the Tour and the original team leader, fell behind in the Alps to Alaphilippe, he worked along Bernal to support his final stretch in the Alps.

“When we started the team, there was a very Anglo-Saxon way about it,” Brailsford told the Telegraph. “You are going to do it our way, no debate about it, which is naive when you have Colombians and Spanish in the team. Of course the best way to do it is to understand other people’s culture, other people’s views and make them feel comfortable and help them to perform to the best of their ability. To support them, we had to invest in Spanish coaches.”

Colombia increasingly has been a mecca for elite cyclists, but it lacks a vibrant and transparent sport system. Recent failings in the national sport federation and doping scandals are symptomatic of a crisis overshadowing it.

Note

1. The team is based at the National Cycling Centre in Manchester, England, with a logistics base in Deinze, Belgium. Brailsford is former performance director of British Cycling. It was only 18 months ago that a British parliamentary report found Brailsford’s team guilty of “crossing ethical lines” with the use of medication ahead of Sir Bradley Wiggins’ Tour de France win in 2012, not to mention shoddy record-keeping and transparency. Chris Froome, the team’s star rider, was simultaneously ­embroiled in a long-running fight to clear his name following an ­adverse analytical finding for the asthma drug salbutamol.

The team launched in 2010 with the ambition of winning the Tour de France with a British rider within five years, a goal achieved within just three years when Bradley Wiggins won the 2012 Tour de France, becoming the first British winner in its history, while teammate and fellow Briton Chris Froome finished as the runner up and then went on to win the 2013 Tour de France, thereby achieving the team’s primary aim twice over within the original five-year time period. Froome won Sky’s third Tour de France title in 2015, fourth in 2016 and fifth in 2017. Froome also went on to win the 2017 Vuelta a España and the 2018 Giro d’Italia, making him the champion of all three Grand Tours at once. Froome was also retrospectively awarded victory in the 2011 Vuelta a España, after the original victor Juan José Cobo was stripped of his title due to an anti-doping violation. Team Ineos also won the 2018 Tour de France with Geraint Thomas and the 2019 Tour de France with Egan Bernal, meaning that the team have won seven of the last eight editions of the Tour de France.

Following the decision by British media monopoly Sky UK owned by Rupert Murdoch not to renew sponsorship, the British chemicals monopoly Ineos assumed sponsorship with the team thereby renamed as Team Ineos from April 2019. Ineos is controlled by Manchester-born billionaire, Jim Ratcliffe, who has amassed an estimated fortune of over £21 billion and reputedly the wealthiest man in England. Ratcliffe has also invested over £100 million in Ben Ainslie’s sailing team.

In February 2019, Cyclingnews.com reported that potential sponsorship could be sourced via a combination of the Colombian government and state-controlled oil and gas company, Ecopetrol. Later reports claimed that no deal had been forthcoming.

According to the results of a study commissioned by Cyclingnews.com and performed by Repucom, the team gave more media value to their sponsors and partners than any other cycling team. The team delivered approximately $550m in advertising value, the highest amount achieved by any professional team. Sponsors included:

  • BSkyB or Sky UK provided £30 million in sponsorship;
  • 21st Century Fox (previously News Corporation) and Sky Italia; On 25 June 2013, the team announced that the logo of 21st Century Fox (the direct successor to News Corporation following the spin-off of its publishing business) would appear on the team’s kit and team vehicles;
  • Pinarello supplied bicycle frames and forks;
  • Adidas was the team’s official apparel and accessories partner;
  • GatoradeMarks & SpencerOakleyIG Markets became additional sponsors;
  • Jaguar provided the team cars;
  • Castelli started providing the team’s kit beginning in 2017 after their 3-year partnership with Rapha ended. The new kit was revealed during the Rouleur Classic event on 3 November 2016.

On 12 December 2018, Sky’s parent company 21st Century Fox confirmed that they would withdraw sponsorship of the team at the end of the 2019 season, but would until the 2019 Tour de France seek a new sponsor.

On 19 March 2019, Team Sky announced that Ineos, a multinational chemicals company owned by Jim Ratcliffe, would become the new title sponsor as of 1 May 2019.

With files from news agencies and Wikipedia

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