It’s not unusual to see Tour de France winners shoulder to shoulder with world and Olympic champions at a grand tour, but to see them together in a break at an early season race like the Étoile de Bessèges in southeastern France is spectacular.
Egan Bernal and former world champion teammate Michał Kwiatkowski worked with Philippe Gilbert — another former world champ — and defending Olympic champion Greg Van Avermaet and a dozen or so others to successfully stay away from a hard-chasing peloton.
The break caused enough of a disruption to the race, that the main group fractured into three grupettos behind them, trying to contain the damage to the general classification.
While stage two was a success for a smaller Continental squad, stage 3 was all about WorldTour dominance.
Mid-winter in southeast France still means seven months until the Tour.
An early escape of 20 caused the main group to fracture into several smaller grupettos which moved along in single-file formation, showing the high-speed effort to bring back the break.
Kevin Reza of B&B Hotels always displays effortless poise.
It was unclear if Wellens was just signaling for a wheel, or letting others know he had something in mind for the final 15km.
Two previous world champions and the current Olympic champion were in the day’s break.
2019 Tour de France yellow-jersey winner Egan Bernal taking a turn with his nose in the wind.
Try as they might, the main group could not close down the advantage of the break, which hovered at two minutes for most of the day.
Greg Van Avermaet’s BMC is unmistakable with its understated golden highlights. And yes, Egan Bernal is still riding a Pinarello with rim brakes.
Tim Wellens of Lotto Soudal attacked the break on a twisty and narrow downhill which was partially shaded. His initial gap was just a few bike-lengths, but he built this into a 38-second buffer.
Wellens had plenty of time to celebrate as he crossed the line in stage 3 of the 2021 Étoile de Bessèges.