Greg Van Avermaet showed his champion’s mentality today by going on the attack early into the first mountain stage of the Tour de France before finishing fourth on the line and extending his overall lead on the General Classification.
The Tour de France entered the second phase of the race today with the riders heading into the Alps and tackling a 158.5km course that included five classified climbs: one category four, three category one, and one hors catégorie.
After rolling out of Annecy, the peloton almost immediately reached the base of the first climb, the Col de Bluffy, and despite various attacks, the race was altogether going over the summit after 19km of racing.
Soon after, a large group of riders jumped off the front of the main bunch with race leader Van Avermaet, who started the day with a 43-second lead, going on the offensive by reacting quickly and bridging across to the front of the race.
The 21-rider strong breakaway began to split approaching the summit of the 11.3km long Col de la Croix Fry, which had an average gradient of 7%, and on the descent a select group of eight riders, including the yellow jersey, was drawn out at the front of the race.
On the early slopes of the brutal hors catégorie Montée du Plateau des Glières, a 6km climb with an average gradient of 11.6% and 1.8km of dirt roads at the top, the leaders were around 30 seconds in front of the chasers from the earlier move while the rest of the field sat more than four minutes back.
Nearing the summit of the climb, the Van Avermaet-led front group started to swell once again and, despite an attack on the white gravel roads, which came with less than 90km to go, the 18 leaders remained together and were even able to push their advantage out to over seven minutes on the descent.
On the flatter run into the final two category one climbs, the Col de Romme and the Col de la Columbière, which both had average gradients of over 8%, the peloton started to slowly eat into the advantage of Van Avermaet and his fellow race leaders.
However, on the penultimate climb, the reduced main bunch, which still included Tejay van Garderen and Damiano Caruso, continued to hover around five minutes behind the leaders as Rein Taaramäe (Direct Énergie) attacked to go over the summit alongside Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-step Floors) with 28.5km to go.
Van Avermaet was sitting in the first chasing group 50 seconds back at the KOM and continued to honor the yellow jersey by working hard to limit the time gap to the then lone leader, Alaphilippe and eventually, he headed over the top of the final climb to begin the 14.5km run into Le Grand-Bornand with a lead of around 2’45” over the peloton behind.
In the end, Alaphilippe was able to hold onto his advantage to take a solo victory while Van Avermaet crossed the line 1’44” behind the stage winner which saw him extend his overall lead out to 2’22” going into another hard day of climbing tomorrow.
After his impressive effort, Van Avermaet was also awarded the prize for the Most Combative Rider of the stage.
Quotes From the Finish Line:
Greg Van Avermaet:
“It was a hard day but two years ago, I also went into the breakaway in the yellow jersey so, it was super nice for me to spend the day in yellow in the mountains. I was waiting to find the right moment and when the big move went, I decided to give it a go and see how Team Sky reacted and they didn’t. I had to ride really hard to catch the breakaway but once I was there, and we directly took six to seven minutes, I knew it could be a good day for me.”
“I was not thinking about keeping the jersey at the start of the day but you have to read the race situation and that’s what I did. I think I waited for the right moment and got into a big group with guys who were going to try to go for the stage. I was then able to keep the yellow jersey for an extra day. I went really deep today and tomorrow is really a climber’s stage and it will be super hard to keep the jersey. I have no intention of trying to keep it. Today was really the only day that I could do it but I think after tomorrow it will be over.”
Sports Director, Fabio Baldato:
“Greg’s performance was unbelievable, amazing, fantastic. You can say many things. Behind him the GC riders were looking at each other and it wasn’t really a hard pace. Greg wanted to go and he said this morning that the best way to defend the jersey would be to attack and go off the front so why not try. He did a really fantastic ride. We saw him go on the attack to bridge across and on the radio, I heard Tejay say ‘Go, go Greg. It’s good. The bunch is slowing down’ and then the group grew to 21 riders. Team Sky then started to set the tempo and it worked perfectly for us.”