Le Lioran (France) (AFP) – Greg Van Avermaet basked in the greatest moment of his career on Wednesday and said wearing the Tour de France yellow jersey topped everything he’d done before.
The 31-year-old Belgian attacked breakaway companion Thomas De Gendt with 17.4km left of Wednesday’s 216km fifth stage from Limoges to Le Lioran, and rode away to victory by 2min 34sec from his compatriot.
He is now more than five minutes ahead of his nearest competitor in the yellow jersey standings having relieved Peter Sagan of the race leadership.
Normally a cobbled classic specialist who has come close to winning the biggest spring races on the calendar — Paris-Roubaix and the Tour of Flanders — without taking the titles, Van Avermaet said this made up for those disappointments.
“I never give up, that’s the most important thing… in my career,” he said.
“I’ve always worked hard but I’ve not always had luck. But after so many years and so many hard days — I’ve had a lot of disappointments, and also quite a lot of nice days.”
He started the season well, winning Het Nieuwsblad in February and then taking a shock victory in the Tirreno-Adriatico week-long stage race in March, albeit due to the main mountain stage being cancelled due to the weather.
But he crashed during April’s Tour of Flanders, breaking his collarbone and ruining his spring classics season.
“The last year was quite good — winning Tirreno and Nieuswblad — I was ready for a good classics (campaign) but I crashed and missed one or two classics.
“But now winning a Tour stage and wearing yellow for the first time is a dream. It makes all the suffering worth it.”
Van Avermaet also won stage 13 at last year’s Tour, but he said taking the race lead was more of an achievement for him than claiming stage honours.
“The yellow jersey is the most important for me. A stage win, I had one last year, it was really special, but wearing yellow for my type of rider, it’s hard to do.
“I was a few times close but if you’re not the best sprinter or the best in time-trials, it’s hard to wear this (jersey).
“I won’t have it in Paris so it’s good to enjoy it now!”
– ‘I don’t care’ –
Sagan finished in a group 23min 45sec behind Van Avermaet having cracked on the first difficult climb of the day, 30km from the finish.
He kept hold of the green sprinters’ jersey, though, which he will wear on Thursday’s stage likely to finish in a bunch sprint.
However, both Mark Cavendish and Marcel Kittel, who like Sagan have already won stages this year, are close enough to wrest the green jersey from him.
Sagan said he wasn’t bothered about losing the yellow jersey as having green in Paris is his main aim.
“No, it’s OK, I don’t care,” he said when asked if he was disappointed to lose the yellow jersey.
“C’est la vie. One day is good, one day is bad — it’s the race, it’s OK.
“Every year (the green jersey) is my goal. I’m OK, I’m not sad.
“It’s the fifth stage, there’s still a long way to go.”