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story.lead_photo.caption Colombia’s Egan Bernal, wearing the overall leader’s yellow jersey, rides on the Champs-Elysees during the final stage of the Tour de France on Sunday in Paris.

PARIS -- The skies over Paris were yellow, ignited by a glorious golden sunset.

The partying fans' shirts were yellow, Colombians making themselves at home on the Champs-Elysees.

But the yellow that counted most was on the iconic jersey worn by Egan Bernal.

His crowning Sunday as the Tour de France's youngest post-World War II champion, and its first from South America, heralded a new era in the cycling universe.

Winning a Tour at age 22 immediately prompted the question: How many more might he win?

Consider this: He's younger than the Tour's greatest champions -- five-time winners Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault and Miguel Indurain -- all were when they were first crowned.

"I am the most happy guy in the world. I just won the Tour de France, and, yeah, I can't believe it," Bernal said, looking bemused on the podium.

The slightly built Colombian with a killer instinct on the road proved to be the strongest of the 176 men who roared off from the start in Brussels, Belgium, on July 6 on their 2,092-mile odyssey that delivered the most absorbing, drama-packed Tour in decades and confirmation that the prodigy Bernal is the real deal.

Gallery: Tour de France 2019

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Riding a yellow bike, and cheered by Colombian fans who were partying even before he rattled up the cobblestones of the Champs-Elysees, Bernal crossed the line with his teammate Geraint Thomas, the 2018 champion who this year finished second. Steven Kruijswijk completed what Tour organizers said was the tightest podium in the 116-year history of the race, with just 1 minute, 31 seconds separating first and third places after three weeks of racing.

The 21st and final stage was won in a sprint finish on the famous avenue by Australian Caleb Ewan, the dominant sprinter of his first Tour with three stage victories. Keeping with race tradition on its final day, the 155 riders who survived the Tour rode at a pedestrian pace and in a joyful atmosphere before hitting the Champs-Elysees. Bernal chatted with French rival Julian Alaphilippe and raised a glass of champagne as he rode.

At the finish, Bernal fell into the arms of his family.

"I cannot believe it. It's just incredible. I am sorry. I have no words," he said through a translator. "I still can't understand what is happening to me."

Millions of French fans who had lined the roads through east, central and southern France, and up into the thinning air of the Pyrenees and Alps, were ruing a bittersweet Tour.

First, their hearts soared with fabulous racing from Alaphilippe, who held the iconic yellow jersey for 14 days, and Thibaut Pinot, another French rider who won on the first of seven peaks of 6,500 feet or more scaled by the highest Tour in history.

But joy turned to sorrow when Alaphilippe and Pinot's prospects of becoming France's first winner since Hinault in 1985 were dashed just two days before the grand finale in Paris, on an epic Stage 19 where Mother Nature became an unwelcome guest. Torrential rain and hail severed the Tour route just as Bernal was succeeding in taking the race lead from Alaphilippe.

Alaphilippe's enterprise first put him in yellow in Champagne country on Stage 3 and then, after he lost the lead on Stage 6, got him the jersey back on Stage 8, which he held through the Pyrenees and into the Alps.

And it was there that Bernal, raised at altitude in Colombia and at home in thinner air, struck.

Bernal flew up the Tour's highest climb, the dizzying Iseran pass at 9,088 feet above sea level, demolishing what remained of Alaphilippe's lead on Stage 19 and building a sizeable one of his own.

The watch was then stopped, with Bernal way ahead, when the hailstorm suddenly coated the route with ice, amid fears that riders on tires barely wider than their thumbs could skid off the road.

Compounding the misery for France, Pinot abandoned the race in tears, hobbled by a left-thigh muscle tear.

"Honestly, I prefer having won two stages and 14 days in yellow than doing nothing and finishing third," Alaphilippe said Sunday.

So instead of a red, white and blue celebration, Paris instead got painted in Colombian red, blue and yellow.

Sports on 07/29/2019

Print Headline: Colombian, 22, wins Tour de France

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