California’s Colombian cavalry
Since the WorldTour debuted in its current guise in 2011, only three riders have won a toplevel stage race in their first year with a WorldTour team. Moreno Moser, aged 21, won the Tour of Poland in 2012 for LiquigasCannondale and Ilnur Zakarin won the Tour de Romandie in 2015 for Katusha. The third to join this elite little club is Team Sky’s Egan Bernal, who took the the yellow jersey at the Tour of California in dominating fashion.
Not that the result was out of the blue. The young Colombian’s GC results have been so impressive in 2018 that Sky are said to be considering fast-tracking him straight into their Tour de France line up for his grand tour debut. Those results include victory at the Colombia Oro y Paz, second at the Tour de Romandie and sixth at the Tour Down Under. There was also a near miss at the Volta a Catalunya, where a crash just a few kilometres from the finish-line on the final day deprived him of another WorldTour GC podium.
While Bernal lit up the mountain stages, winning the two summit finishes on his way to the yellow jersey – the first by a Colombian rider – his compatriot Fernando Gaviria swept up three sprint victories with ease. Few race results symbolise quite what the future of cycling could very likely be as those of the Tour of California. Matxin Fernandez, a UAE Emirates sports director with a background in talent scouting said Colombia was, in his view, the number one source of promising juniors and U23 riders.
California was one of the few races where the bulk of the main sprinters went head-to-head before the Tour. Peter Sagan, Marcel Kittel, Mark Cavendish, Caleb Ewan and Alexander Kristoff were among those joining Gaviria on the start line. But it was the 23-year-old Colombian who set the tone by winning stage 1 in Long Beach. Gaviria won the sprint a wheel ahead of Ewan, with Sagan third and pre-race favourite Kittel in fourth. Four days later on stage 5 in Elk Grove, Gaviria’s victory was even more pronounced, as he sprinted a bike length clear of Ewan, and had time to sit up and celebrate. A late charge from Max Walscheid on stage 7 threatened to snatch the final stage from Gaviria, but a photo-finish proved otherwise. The reality was that Ewan was the only Tour rival to get near the Colombian.
In the battle for the yellow jersey Bernal followed Gaviria’s lead and set the tone early by winning on stage 2, the first summit finish. Another of Sky’s impressive young talents, Tao Geoghegan Hart, set up Bernal, who attacked with 2km to go. Bernal was quickly out of sight and he crossed the line with a 21-second buffer and a handy 10-second time bonus to boot. Adam Yates, Tejay van Garderen and Rafa ¯ Majka, his closest challengers, finished in dribs and drabs behind.
The 34.7km time trial on stage 4 was never going to suit the young
climber, however, and Bernal relinquished the lead as expected to Van Garderen, who won the stage – his first victory since the 2017 Giro d’Italia. The final showdown came on the climb to South Lake Tahoe on stage 6.
BMC’s Van Garderen had no answer to Sky’s young guns when the road went uphill and Geoghegan Hart and Bernal ran amok. The Briton was the first to attack with 10km to go, before Bernal bridged across and pressed on immediately. He won his second stage by a whopping 1:28 to secure the yellow jersey, and his first WorldTour stagerace win. It looks like it may be the first of many memorable wins to come.
Gaviria won the three sprint stages in California against many rivals he will face on his Tour debut
Bernal rides clear from the peloton on the climb to South Lake Tahoe on stage 6, to seal the win
The victory was the irst GC WorldTour stage race win for 21-year- old Bernal