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His victory celebration, flapping his arms as he crossed the line solo, was symbolic. This was the seventh Tour stage of his career, but his first in the race’s hallowed yellow jersey.
“I wanted to show that the jersey gives me wings. At least I felt like flying in the last 10 kilometres. It was really special at least to take a victory like this,” he says. A poetic line – and one that will no doubt please his helmet sponsors Red Bull, who use it as their advertising slogan.
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Though he had taken an unlikely run of runner-up placings, Van Aert was not frustrated. “I think maybe in the whole world, I was the one who was the most patient and confident that the victory would come,” the Belgian said.
“To be honest, ending up second in the first two bunch sprints [in Denmark] was something I did not expect. They were quite easy stages and I knew before the Tour that everything coming this week suits me better.”
This plan to explode the race over the Cap Blanc-Nez, with its narrow turning and eight per cent gradient, was made long before the Tour.
“The plan was to try something both for GC and the green jersey, with 50 points at the finish line. And also maybe with a bit more wind, we could actually try something for Jonas and Primoz,” Van Aert said.
Going all out to the top thinned out the bunch more than he thought. “Of course I did not expect to end up alone but the moment I hit the top, I could see Jonas behind with one other,” he explained.
“It was only a small gap with the rest. Quite quick I got a call they [Roglič and Vingegaard] were safe with the other GC guys and I could go for the stage victory. It was still a long way,” he says, with a laugh about his all-out 10-kilometre solo.
There could be more to come tomorrow from Van Aert and Jumbo-Visma on the pavé of stage 5. “I think we go into this stage with a lot of confidence and we see it as an opportunity to try something, even in the GC,” he said.
“Basically, half of the team are Classics guys who are really used to riding the cobbles. I’m really looking forward to doing a stage like this in the Tour de France. If we can help Jonas and Primož to try something, that would be good.”
Wout van Aert is a rare beast, a rider who can play a significant role on every single stage of the Tour.
He can win alone, in bunch sprints, over the hills or against the clock, all while aiming for the green jersey and supporting Primož Roglič and Jonas Vingegaard in their pursuit of race victory.
Phew, it’s quite the workload.
“It’s something we always try to combine and that’s not easy. On the other hand, the Tour de France is always demanding,” Van Aert said.
“And I can’t imagine riding it just at the back of the bunch and looking around. For me, it’s a nice feeling to have some goals every day. This motivates me. I don’t believe [all] this will be a problem.”