All eyes are on Egan Bernal at the Volta Ciclista a Catalunya this week following his victory at Paris-Nice. The Colombian is also one of the many locals competing, having made Andorra his European home.
One year ago, Bernal was on the verge of making his first UCI WorldTour podium at the Volta Ciclista a Catalunya – having switched from UCI Professional Continental Team Androni Giocattoli-Sidermec to UCI WorldTeam Team Sky in the middle of a four-year
neo-pro contract – until he crashed heavily on the last stage in Barcelona. However, he returned in time to win the Amgen Tour of California and earn a spot at the Tour de France, even though his Grand Tour debut had originally been scheduled
for La Vuelta a España more than two months later. During the three-week Tour de France Bernal was at the service of Geraint Thomas and Chris Froome, who finished first and third.
Bernal is a very humble young rider, aged only 22. Despite becoming a Tour de l’Avenir winner in 2017, he kept saying: “I don’t know if I’ll be able to win a Grand Tour one day. A three-week race is another story.” He’s
now being touted to become the first Colombian to win the Tour de France and somehow he’s already filling the shoes of Nairo Quintana who has bagged the Giro d’Italia and La Vuelta a España but has not – yet –
fulfilled his famous #sueñoamarillo (yellow dream). Interestingly, the two Colombians took the first two places in the recent Paris-Nice, but it was the younger one was dressed in yellow on the Promenade des Anglais.
Team Sky has designated Bernal as its leader for this year’s Giro d’Italia. He’s also set to return to the Tour de France in a support role to Thomas and Froome. After Paris-Nice, the Volta Ciclista a Catalunya is his second goal in
Europe in terms of stage races, after which he’ll go home to Colombia for a month of altitude training. His town, Zipaquira, at 2500m altitude, is known for its salt cathedral, “Colombia’s most beautiful tourist attraction,”
Bernal once stated.
When in Europe, he lives in Andorra where, just three-and-a-half years ago, he won bronze in the Junior XCO race at the UCI Mountain Bike World Championships. He had hardly raced on the road then but was eager to switch after his disappointment in missing
out on the XCO rainbow jersey. Androni Giocattoli-Sidermec team manager Gianni Savio was well informed and signed him for four years on a pro contract despite his total lack of experience. Bernal made the top 20 of his first pro race, La Méditerranéenne,
in France, and the success story started from there.
Bernal insisted on riding the Volta Ciclista a Catalunya once again to make up for what he perceives as his failure last year. He feels at home in this part of Europe but it’s the case for many pro riders even though there’s no top star today
who originates from Catalunya. Enric Mas is from the nearby islands of Mallorca. He’s one of the numerous riders who recently moved to Andorra, as is Julian Alaphilippe, currently ranked number one in the world and winner of Milan-Sanremo. They followed the path of Joaquim Rodriguez, a pure Catalan from Parets del Vallès who ten years ago settled in the principality
in the middle of the Pyrenées where the official language is… Catalan.
At the time, dozens of members of pro teams were living in Catalonia. The influx started in the 90s on the recommendations of former Danish pro Johnny Weltz who advised US Postal’s American riders to stay in Girona. The province of northern Catalonia
had seen many cyclists training, notably on the Rocacorba climb where Ryder Hesjedal prepared for his victory in the 2012 Giro d’Italia (beating Joaquim Rodriguez in the closing time trial). Barcelona’s airport has become the most common
destination and departure point of the pro peloton.
Catalonia is a historical hot bed of Spanish cycling, with a strong regional identity that is highlighted in the UCI WorldTour. The eventual first Colombian winner of the Tour de France might well have trained in Catalonia because many Andorra-based cyclists
often cross the border to ride on Spanish roads.