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Just a day after a breakaway narrowly fended off the chasing pack, Van Aert looked to have a win in the bag in the hilltop finale at Chastreix-Sancy in stage 3.
Just as he pulled up to celebrate, Groupama-FDJ’s David Gaudu bolted past his right shoulder.
In a well-timed bike stab, the Frenchman took the win.
Van Aert could only cringe as he watched in horror as the win slipped away.
“Just watch the replay. In the end, I raised the arms a bit too early,” Van Aert said. “I am really ashamed to lose it like that.
“It’s a big disappointment to not finish off all of our work today. And I had it in my hands,” he said. “If I threw the wheel instead of celebrating, I just had it. If I just done one pedal stroke and throw my bike it’s one wheel of a difference. I am quite angry on myself. For sure I want to make up for it in the next couple of days.”
The miscue was a rare mistake from Van Aert, who otherwise rode a terrific race to stay with the sleek climbers on the sharp uphill finale.
- David Gaudu wins after Van Aert celebrates too early
- Breakaway ‘smarter’ than bunch in missed chance
- Winning is always ‘good for the head’
Van Aert found some consolation by regaining the yellow jersey after Monday’s winner Alexis Vuillermoz was gapped late on the grinding finale.
“I don’t think I’ve done this before,” Van Aert said. “It’s even something, when you see it with someone else, you question how it’s possible. Now I understand that feeling better.”
Jumbo-Visma took control of the potentially explosive third stage, and worked hard to reel in a breakaway to set up the elite pack for a run at the victory.
Van Aert was momentarily gapped when Ben O’Connor uncorked a late surge, but Primož Roglič moved to the front to slow the speed and Jonas Vingegaard pulled back to help pace Van Aert back to the front of the bunch.
“I was ready there today and I took a bit of chance, but in the end, Jumbo was always going to look out for Wout, and even if you did something mega, it would come back for a sprint,” said O’Connor, who crossed the line 15th behind Gaudu.
“That’s how it goes in cycling,” O’Connor said. “The guy who does no work, you don’t see him all day, and they win. That’s just one of the strange things in cycling I guess.”
The win, nevertheless, is a big deal for Gaudu and his Groupama-FDJ team. The French squad always likes to shine in the high-profile French stage race.
For Gaudu, the win is a win, no matter who might have been celebrating too early.
In fact, the photo finish reveals that Gaudu won by half a wheel, suggesting that Van Aert might have misread the finish line tape.
“I saw even before Wout raised his arms that I had already passed him,” Gaudu said. “I was a bit far back and I told myself that he wasn’t going to manage it. I felt I had the strength and I went all-in. In the end, I see that Wout pulled up and I said to myself, I am going to do it, and I did.”
Roglič could only watch in dismay as Jumbo-Visma missed another chance at the win after the team worked to control a breakaway and deliver Van Aert to the line.
“He came from behind with a lot of speed and he took advantage of that,” Roglič said of Gaudu. “The whole team showed a lot of strength and I think we should be happy for that. The plan was for Wout today, and I was not in the position to win. The team did great, all the team, they showed a great level for this moment now. It’s a good preparation.”
Instead of winning three stages in a row, Van Aert will have to take consolation with one and the yellow jersey as well as the green points jersey.
Wednesday’s time trial should see a showdown between Van Aert and Italian world time trial champion Filippo Ganna (Ineos Grenadiers).
“The legs are still in a lot of pain today,” Van Aert said. “But this afternoon, it was hard to get back to the breakaway, so we worked a lot. I hope it won’t be a problem tomorrow and I’ll have a chance to win. There’s something for tomorrow.”
Instead of going for four-for-four in the opening stages of the Dauphiné, Van Aert will be trying to make it two out of four, still a 50-percent win ratio.