The Belgian superstar was racing for everything in the second stage of the 2020 Tour de France, but made the bet that attacking riders would be reeled in to set up a reduced bunch sprint to the line. He got the second part right.
“I had in mind to take yellow and to win the stage, so I gave it all, like a one-day race,” Van Avermaet said. “Unfortunately, three guys stayed in front, and they were the best. In racing, anything can happen, and I just played my cards.”
Instead of “Golden Greg,” it was Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) who will leave Nice on Monday with the stage win and yellow jersey on his shoulders. The Frenchman jumped on the day’s final climb in a hard-fought battle in the mountains above Nice. Marc Hirschi (Sunweb) and Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) hitched a ride, and barely held off the charging peloton by just two seconds to contest the victory.
Van Avermaet led the way in the front group of 30-odd riders to take the honor of winning the bunch sprint. It counts for something, because it gives him the confidence of knowing his legs are good.
It also stings to be so close to yellow and see it not tilt your way.
“I’m a bit disappointed, of course, after surviving these kind of climbs and these kinds of riders,” Van Avermaet said. “It would be nicer to come closer to victory, but I cannot change it now.”
The 35-year-old Belgian includes two Tour stage wins, in 2015 and 2016, and a three-day stint in yellow in 2016 on his palmarès.
He wanted to return the favor to CCC, which is facing possible closure at the end of 2020 after the title sponsor, a Polish shoemaker, is stepping away in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Van Avermaet has already secured his future, signing a three-year deal to join Ag2r-La Mondiale next season.
“I’m hoping it’s not my last chance for a stage win in this Tour,” Van Avermaet said. “I think stage 5 is a good one for me with an uphill sprint. The legs are responding well. I am hoping there are a few more chances for me.”
And so does his team. A stage win would be a huge boost in a search for a title sponsor.