Egan Bernal is not used to journalists asking him questions in English. Junior World Vice-Champion, the young Colombian made a great leap forward this week in Norway. At 17 years of age, the kid from Zipaquira, in the suburbs of Bogota, stepped onto the podium of the MTB and Trials World Championships in the Junior category. He slipped in between the normally untouchable Danish rider Simon Andreassen and Luca Schwarzbauer, the German. This was a first for Colombia, which had never had one of its male riders stand on the world “box”. MTB is the poor relation when compared to Road, BMX (Stefany Hernandez) and Track (Fabian Puerta).
This silver medal is something of a new experience for Bernal. The South American with the physical appearance of Nairo Quintana, his famous fellow countryman who won the latest Giro, had until now as his best result only the title of Pan-American Champion in 2013 (3rd in 2014). This season, he was able to take advantage of the launch of the continental circuit in the Americas to win in Costa Rica and to finish 4th in Vermont (USA).
In Europe, he only knows Norway and then only barely – “the airport, the train, the hotel, and the competition site, but everything seems so well organised,” says Bernal. As for many South-American athletes, the European Continent is considered to be a far away and expensive destination. The creation of UCI races in the region appears to be the only alternative for raising the level of the riders and for preparing them for more high-level competitions such as the World Championships, the World Cup and the Olympic Games.
Argentinian and Ecuadorian fans cheering on Bernal
When Bernal crossed the finishing line, the Colombian – but also Argentinian and Ecuadorian – fans celebrated his victory. Pablo Mazuera, his manager and director of the Mezuena Foundation, which supports the development of young cyclists in the country, explains: “South America is a large family. We are all confronted with the same difficulties, so when a cyclist from our continent is successful, the whole area celebrates.” Truly a medal on behalf of all the South American athletes!