Toms Skujins made the most of his debut in the Tour de France, making the day's breakaway on stage 5 to Quimper in one of the stages he had targeted for a go at a stage victory. While the escape did not succeed, the Trek-Segafredo rider made history as the first Latvian to wear a special jersey at the Tour when he took the lead in the mountains classification.
"I'm still so excited, it was good fun," Skujins said. "Today could have been more exciting for the stage win. Everyone is fighting for every little prize on the road."
Skujins may have rather had a chance to go for the stage win, but when Direct Energie began attacking the breakaway, he knew that he would have to change his plans and turned his focus to the mountain sprints. Chavanel had taken the first three of five, so Skujins needed to win the last two climbs to both draw even and win the tie breaker for winning on more higher-category climbs. But to do it, he had to beat Chavanel's teammate Lilian Calmejane - a tall order.
"Calmejane's a strong rider; he won a stage at the Tour, and I think the Vuelta as well. I was just happy that I could take the points over him today. It's definitely nice for my first Tour de France – I am happy about it," Skujins said.
On a long, hot stage - 204.5km along the Atlantic coast and hills of Finestère, it was a good day for an escape, with plenty of hills, narrow roads and tricky turns in the finale. But even a Tour rookie like Skujins knows the fight to get into the breakaway is brutal.
"There were some good attacks in the beginning, [Thomas] De Gendt was going for it, you could see that. I always keep an eye on him, especially when he starts in the first line on the neutral," Skujins explained.
"It was a little bit of a crosswind, and obviously [the peloton] wanted a break to not be too big. At one point we were like 25 guys but I didn't roll through because obviously, it's going to come back. Once it came back, I knew that everyone was just a little bit gassed. I just attacked after Chavanel, and that was it."
The group ended up being Skujins, Chavanel, Calmejane, Jasper De Buyst (Lotto Soudal), Julien Vermote (Dimension Data), Nicolas Edet (Cofidis) and Elie Gesbert (Fortuneo-Samsic), although the latter ended up crashing out while the group was trying to chase down Chavanel. Both the attack and the crash complicated their chances of staying away.
"Once [Sylvain] Chavanel attacked and didn't come back, that made the break really unorganised. Obviously Calmejane wasn't riding, and one guy crashed out of the break because he was being a super smart guy and riding on the top tube..." Skujins lamented before suggesting the break could have lasted without the disorganisation.
"It wasn't to be, the guys chose a different tactic. Maybe they didn't believe in making it to the final or maybe they didn't want to make it to the final. It changed it a lot and that's why the only thing you could do is try to get the KOM jersey and get most aggressive rider, which I did. I'm pretty happy about it because I was in a break with some French guys, so it was stacked against me."
Skujins said he had dog-eared the page for stage 5 in the road book, and has a number of other stages marked. "I think I folded stage 6 also, but that's not going to happen anymore. I'm not here to commit suicide," he joked.
Watch the stage 5 highlight video from the Tour de France above.