When Thomas De Gendt made a break from the peloton on stage 2 of the Tour de Romandie Thursday, American Nathan Brown went with him. After all, the yellow jersey was on the line.
For Brown (EF Education First – Drapac), the move was an opportunity to seize the overall lead. Sure, it was a long shot, but he was just 26 seconds behind race leader Primoz Roglic (LottoNL-Jumbo) in the overall, and he knew De Gendt was a good wheel to follow.
“When De Gendt goes in a break, it always has a chance of making it. I saw him go and thought I better jump on the De Gendt train before it leaves the station!” said Brown. Another key to the break’s success was Victor Campanaerts, De Gendt’s Lotto-Soudal teammate. Along with those three, Matteo Fabbro and Andriy Grivko escaped. The group gained a seven-minute advantage over the rest of the field at one point.
“I definitely wanted to aim for six minutes lead,” said De Gendt. “We kept on riding full gas and didn’t give up, we just would see where it would take us. And it turned out well.”
With the blistering pace, the breakaway dwindled in size. Fabbro suffered a mechanical early on. Grivko was dropped on a climb. Only Brown remained with Campenaerts and De Gendt as they entered the final 50 kilometers.
Eventually, Campanaerts would also lose touch, leaving just Brown and De Gendt ahead of the pack. Brown had a feeling that De Gendt would attack again on a hilly section.
“I knew De Gendt was going to try and lose me,” said Brown. “I tried to set the tempo, so he wouldn’t surge, but that didn’t stop him.”
De Gendt has won stages in all three grand tours, but he wasn’t underestimating Brown, 26. So he attacked.
“Brown was still making a good impression, and I wanted to test him,” said De Gendt. “I immediately got a small gap and I decided to continue on my own, even though it was still a long way to the finish.”
While the Belgian rode to eventual victory, Brown was stuck in no man’s land. If he could hold off the peloton by just 26 seconds, he’d take the yellow jersey.
“Once I lost contact with [De Gendt], I still had 3:50 on the bunch. If I stayed away, I would still take the yellow jersey. I left it all out there,” Brown said.
But the peloton closed the gap to Brown in the last few kilometers of the stage. It was ultimately a fruitless effort, but still, the Colorado-born rider was upbeat about his long day off the front.
“They got me at 2km. It for sure stings a little, but gives me confidence that I have good form,” said Brown.
In addition to the confidence that comes from a strong ride, he felt inspired by the fan support that had been pouring in on social media while he was fighting off the peloton.
“It’s amazing to go back to the bus and go through Twitter reading messages after a day like this one,” he said.