Egan Bernal is still struggling to believe he won the Tour de France.
The 22-year-old became the youngest winner of cycling’s biggest race in 110 years when he took victory ahead of Ineos team-mate and defending champion Geraint Thomas last month.
“To be honest, I don’t really believe it yet,” Bernal said on the Team Ineos website. “I feel the same as I did before the Tour. I think I just need a couple of days at home, staying really calm, and then I’ll start to believe that I have won the Tour. I can’t process it.
“I have won the biggest race, but I’ll still be happy to win a small race. Right now I think that I am the same guy that started the Tour in Belgium one month ago.”
Bernal began the year targeting the Giro d’Italia and showed his excellent form with victory in Paris-Nice in March.
He suffered a broken collarbone in a training crash which ended his Giro hopes, but immediately turned his attention to the Tour and was elevated to co-leader alongside Thomas after June’s Tour de Suisse – in which Thomas crashed out and Bernal went on to take overall victory.
Bernal had only raced the Tour once before – finishing 15th last year while helping Thomas to victory – but despite his youth he never seemed fazed by the spotlight which came with co-leadership of a team which has now won seven of the last eight editions.
“Maybe the key to winning the Tour is just trying to enjoy it,” Bernal said. “During the Tour, the media talk about pressure, pressure, pressure, but if I’d started to think about that, maybe I wouldn’t have ridden the same.
“But throughout the Tour I knew I had prepared in the best way I could. What could I do then? Just enjoy it and ride as fast as I could.
“I knew I would do my best so I would have been happy with any result – either winning the Tour or helping G win. In the end I just knew I needed to go full gas, enjoy the race, and stay calm.”
In a Tour which will be remembered for Julian Alaphilippe’s improbable 14-day spell in the yellow jersey, Bernal did not take the lead until a weather-shortened stage 19 when his attack on the Col de l’Iseran proved decisive.
With the following day’s stage also truncated due to landslides, Bernal had little time to get comfortable in yellow and was still trying to get his head around it as he stood on the podium in Paris.
“It was just amazing,” he said. “I almost cried on the podium. When I was really young, I saw (Alberto) Contador and the big battles with (Andy) Schleck, then guys like (Sir Bradley) Wiggins and (Chris) Froomey.
“I saw them on the TV. And wow, I couldn’t imagine that one day I would be there. On the podium I was thinking of them. It was just amazing because my Dad and my girlfriend were there. It was a special moment.”