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Tour de France

Beating back marginal gains: How Yves Lampaert took down the Tour de France favorites

The Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl journeyman played giant-killer Friday on wet roads to beat back the best in the world.

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COPENHAGEN, Denmark (VN) — Yves Lampaert stunned the cycling world Friday to beat back a peloton full of marginal gains and specialized equipment to snatch the yellow jersey in the opening stage of the 2022 Tour de France.

The Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl journeyman played giant-killer Friday on wet roads to beat back Wout van Aert, Mathieu van der Poel, and world time trial champion Filippo Ganna to take a stunning victory.

That put him into the yellow jersey, and no one was more surprised than he was.

“It’s a big surprise for me,” Lampaert said. “This morning I was hoping for a top place, but I never thought I would win. At the intermediate check, I was two seconds behind Wout, so I kept pushing until the end. At the finish, inside the car the directors were going crazy and they told me it was good enough for victory. It’s great and it’s a dream come true.”

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Not many expected the 31-year-old Lampaert to come up victorious on Friday.

Pre-race favorites also included a handful of GC contenders, like Tadej Pogačar and Primož Roglič, but heavy rain, wind, and generally miserable conditions saw some of the overall favorites ease off the risks.

Ganna also struggled to match expectations, and it was Van der Poel and then Van Aert who were sitting in the hot seat. Lampaert blazed through five seconds faster.

“I think I had the same conditions as all the favorites, but I still had the best time,” Lampaert said. “I didn’t expect to beat guys like Van Aert and Van der Poel who are quite good in these shorter courses. I could put down some power on the flatter straight sectors and I could make some time.”

Lampaert is no slouch against the clock, and five of his 15 pro wins have come in time trials, so his win wasn’t a complete shock.

He’s the first Belgian to take the maillot jaune since Greg Van Avermaet in 2018 and the fourth from his cycling mad country to win the inaugural time trial of the Tour de France after Eddy Merckx, victor of three prologues (in 1970, 1972, and 1974), Freddy Maertens (1976) and Eric Vanderaerden (1983).

The victory was celebrated inside the Quick-Step bus, which was beset with controversy over its final rider selection. World champion Julian Alaphilippe and sprinter Mark Cavendish were both left at home.

“There was some controversy about selection, which I can understand,” he said. “We came here with a strong team and it’s a shame the world champion is not here, but we have the yellow jersey now, so chapeau to the team.

“Tomorrow we need to discuss the tactics, we still need to focus on the goals that we came with here, and that was to work for Fabio in the sprints,” he said. “The team is really good for the leadout. It’s nice how it’s started, but our main goal is to win stages with Fabio here.”

Team manager Patrick Lefevere celebrates the win. (Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images)

Not to say that Quick-Step isn’t kitted out with top-of-the-line bikes and equipment, but Lampaert’s win is a throwback to the old-school tactics of hammering hard and relying more on brute strength and determination.

In fact, Lampaert opted not to use a new helmet that bike sponsor Specialized debuted Friday that featured a unique head sock designed to increase airflow and reduce resistance.

“Because I didn’t use it before and I wanted to use some equipment that I trusted,” he explained. “Maybe next time I would use it, and especially in these wet conditions, I didn’t want to take any risks.”

Lampaert will enjoy his day in the yellow jersey but he said he’s not going to obsess about defending it. He’ll be back in the trenches Saturday to be part of Quick-Step’s leadout train for Jakobsen.

“I’m just a farmer from Belgium and to do this, it’s unexpected,” he said. “I cannot believe it. I knew I was in good condition, but to win stage in the Tour de France, especially stage 1 is something I never could dream of.

“I will have the yellow jersey on my shoulders at least for one day. I will only be able to realize when the Tour will be over, or maybe on Monday when I’ll see my girlfriend and my son,” he said. “I want to share this moment with Tim Declercq who is one of my best friend and couldn’t ride the Tour because of COVID.”

It’s only natural the Farmer would pay tribute to the Tractor. Vive le Tour.