Brilliant Bernal on the brink of Tour history after Giro woe
Egan Bernal could surely not have envisaged that being ruled out of the Giro d'Italia in May might have been the greatest blessing in disguise he will ever have.
The 22-year-old had been primed to lead Team INEOS in the first Grand Tour of the year, but a broken collarbone denied him that opportunity.
Team INEOS sport director Nico Portal stated it would be unlikely Bernal would spearhead their challenge in both the Giro and the Tour de France before the injury blow he suffered in a training ride.
Bernal recovered from surgery and was named as joint-leader alongside defending champion Geraint Thomas for the most prestigious cycling event in the world after a horror crash put paid to Chris Froome's hopes of winning the Tour for a record-equalling fifth time.
The Zipaquira native now stands on the brink of becoming the first Colombian to win the Tour in Paris on Sunday, having already claimed Tour de Suisse and Paris–Nice titles this year.
A short but intense stage which crowned a young guy from Colombia.— Tour de France(@LeTour) July 27, 2019
Relive Stage 20 from inside the Tour de France.
Une étape courte et intense qui a courroné un jeune champion venu de Colombie.
Revivez l'Etape 20 du #TDF2019 au coeur du Tour de France ! pic.twitter.com/cWmCrZoHpt
For much of the race, the host nation were dreaming of a first French winner of the Tour in 34 years with Julian Alaphilippe a long-time leader and Thibaut Pinot firmly in contention.
Yet it was all change after a freak Friday in the Alps, where a hailstorm and mudslides brought stage 19 to a dramatic, premature end.
It was not only the extreme weather conditions that had made their mark on the stunning mountains, as Bernal showcased his climbing skills up the daunting Col de l'Iseran in what is set to be a decisive show of aggression.
He took the yellow jersey from Alaphilippe for the first time as a result of that bold move and it was still on his back after a long, gruelling climb to Val Thorens at the end of stage 20 - shortened due to concerns over the weather on Saturday.
Bernal and Thomas are poised to celebrate a one-two in the Champs-Elysees, where Alaphilippe is set to finish fifth with Pinot out due to a thigh injury.
Described by Team Sky as a "next generation general classification threat" when he signed two years ago, Bernal has delivered in the first Tour since INEOS' takeover of the dominant team.
He may have spoiled a potential Paris party, but there will be euphoric scenes throughout Colombia to toast a sensation who is on the verge of becoming the third-youngest Tour champion and the youngest for 110 years.
There may be lasting scars, but the pain of Bernal's pre-Giro training smash will be a distant memory when he cruises into the French capital.