Sky’s 22-year-old all-rounder Egan Bernal won the Paris-Nice eight-day cycling race on Sunday after a battle of nerves with his Colombian compatriot Nairo Quintana of Movistar.
Bernal powered through crosswinds earlier in the week and put in a solid time-trial before a thrilling mountain ascent gave him the overall lead at the summit finish on Saturday.
With a solid 49sec overnight lead and a strong Sky team around him Bernal then finished a few seconds behind Sunday’s stage winner, Spain’s Ion Izagirre of Astana, to seal a landmark win in his young career.
“Even if there were a few tough moments I had a huge team around me today and that made it a matter of staying calm, staying concentrated and taking care on the descents,” Bernal told the press after his win.
Movistar captain Quintana made a concerted effort to drop Bernal and his Sky teammates with 15km remaining and at one point was in the virtual lead by a few seconds before eventually finishing just 10sec ahead of Bernal after the tricky hill-laden 110km loop around Nice.
Bernal was looked after on Sunday by team leader Michal Kwiatkowski of Poland, who ended the race in third overall having wilted on the steep climb on Saturday whilst wearing the leader’s jersey.
The Colombian joined Sky at the start of last season where he won the Tour of California in his first appearance and then served as a powerful lieutenant to Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas at the Tour de France.
Bernal is set to race the Giro D’Italia in May where he will be co-leader with Gianni Moscon.
“I’m only 22 and I have great deal to learn. But I’ll do my best. Paris-Nice is just an eight-day race while the Giro and the Tour are huge.
“But it’s my first Tour as leader and I’ll aim for the top three,” said Bernal.
“Many riders have won a one-week tour, but a three week one is a different matter,” he said.
After a strong final day French hope Romain Bardet finished fifth overall while Britain’s Simon Yates finished way down the field after suffering badly in the crosswinds last Monday before rallying to a time-trial stage win on Thursday.
Final overall standings
1. Egan Bernal (COL/SKY) 29hrs 17min 02sec, 2. Nairo Quintana (COL/MOV) at 39sec, 3. Michal Kwiatkowski (POL/SKY) 1min 03sec, 4. Jack Haig (AUS/MIT) 1:21., 5. Romain Bardet (FRA/ALM) 1:45., 6. George Bennett (NZL/JUM) 2:20., 7. Rudy Molard (FRA/FDJ) 3:02., 8. Bob Jungels (LUX/DEC) 3:06., 9. Luis Leon Sanchez (ESP/AST) 3:12., 10. Ilnur Zakarin (RUS/KAT) 4:07.
Stage 8 results
1. Ion Izagirre (ESP/Astana) 2hrs 41mins 10sec, 2. Oliver Naesen (BEL/ALM) at 18sec, 3. Wilco Kelderman (NED/SUN) same time, 4. Daniel Martinez (COL/EF1) s.t., 5. Félix Grossschartner (AUT/BOR) s.t., 6. Domenico Pozzovivo (ITA/BAH) s.t., 7. Luis Leon Sanchez (ESP/AST) s.t., 8. Simon Yates (GBR/MIT) 20, 9. Tejay van Garderen (USA/EF1) s.t., 10. Nairo Quintana (COL/MOV) 22, 11. Bob Jungels (LUX/DEC) 26, 12. Rudy Molard (FRA/FDJ) 26, 13. Valentin Madouas (FRA/FDJ) 26, 14. George Bennett (NZL/JUM) 26, 15. Romain Bardet (FRA/ALM) 26.