Giro d’Italia winner Egan Bernal on Wednesday presented Pope Francis with a bicycle following an audience in the Vatican, a day after the rider announced he had recovered from Covid-19.
The 24-year-old Colombian tested positive on June 4, less than a week after his triumph in Italy.
“I have had many experiences in my life, but this is unique, the most beautiful experience I have had,” Bernal said after receiving a blessing from the Argentine pontiff in the San Damasco courtyard inside the Vatican.
The cyclist presented the 84-year-old pontiff with a Pinarello F12 bicycle, decked in blue and white stripes and the Vatican coat of arms, the same model on which he rode to victory in the Giro, which ended on May 30.
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The Ineos rider also gave the pontiff a pink jersey, the garment that identifies the leader of the three-week race around Italy.
“A gift from me and from all Colombians who at this time need his blessing,” Bernal said he told the pontiff as he handed him the jersey.
Pope Francis jokingly asked Egan Bernal in Spanish if he drank “muchos tintos,” or Colombian coffees before his races.
“Honestly it was a unique experience, I am very happy, still nervous,” said the South American, who was accompanied by his girlfriend María Fernanda Gutierrez.
“I was very surprised by his presence. It’s like the greatest encounter with God so far and therefore a unique experience.”
Bernal, who is a fluent Italian speaker, told journalists later that in the most difficult moments of his career he prays regularly.
“I grew up in a Catholic family, I am Catholic. Before the most difficult stages I pray,” he said.
Bernal burst onto the scene in 2019 by winning the Tour de France, cycling’s most prestigious race.
In doing so he became the first Latin American to win the race and, at 22, the youngest champion since 1909.
Bernal pulled out of last year’s Tour de France having fallen well behind.
His participation in the Tokyo Olympics starting next month remains in doubt because of recurring back problems.