When Sylvain Chavanel took the yellow jersey at the Tour de France for the very first time in his career a few days ago, he rode across the finish line in Spa, Belgium, kissing the medal bearing the names of his two sons and thought this was the most beautiful day of his professional career. Today, in the medium mountain ski station of Les Rousses, he did it again, and was simply incredulous about what he had just achieved.
It is the second stage victory for the Quick Step rider at this Tour, and the second time he has taken over the general classification lead. This time he snatched it from Fabian Cancellara (Saxo Bank), whose enormous energy finally faded on today's uphill finish. At the post-race press conference, Chavanel grinned from ear to ear, shaking his head in disbelief.
"I don't realise it at all. I think I will only grasp it fully once I come home, but there are still two weeks to go," he said. "Nothing but joy today, again. It's the birthday of our team director, Wilfried Peeters, too. That'll make two bottles of champagne tonight!"
The day unfolded to perfection for his Belgian team, with Chavenel's teammate Jérôme Pineau successfully defending the mountains jersey and Chavanel finishing it off in style by taking the stage win and reclaiming the yellow jersey he had lost to Cancellara on stage three over the cobbles of Arenberg.
"Jérôme jumped ahead, as it was planned in the morning's briefing," he said."Everything we say in the briefing comes true, it's crazy - sometimes there are Tours where everything works out perfectly, and others where nothing goes to plan. This time, we are in a positive spiral and we are really having a great time!"
While Pineau had done his deed, securing the KOM lead off the front, Chavanel set out on his quest for the stage win in the beginning of the final climb - not actually thinking about taking the overall lead. "It took shape as the race unfolded," he said. "When people asked me about it during the last few days, I didn't think I'd be able to take the jersey back, honestly. It's just unbelievable."
Pineau, as he had raced the whole day in front, could not help Chavanel when he bridged up to the him. "I like these sort of climbs at three or four percent, where you have to put on the big ring. When I came up to Jérôme, he tried to help me but he was cooked. I continued, thinking only about the stage. The jersey came as a very nice surprise, actually!"
Still, Chavanel knows that the bigger teams going for the overall victory in Paris could be satisfied with this outcome, as none of them seems to want to carry the burden of the yellow jersey too soon in the race - including Saxo Bank. Now, Chavanel sits 1:25 ahead of Cadel Evans (BMC) and 1:55 ahead of Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank).
"Tomorrow, when the real GC guys will show what they can do on the last climb to Morzine, I will give it anything to limit my losses," the Frenchman said. "We'll see where this takes me. I feel really strong. This is my 10th Tour, but it's the first time I really have no stress, the first time I haven't set myself any goals. I'm in a bubble."
No doubt, Chavanel will want to keep the jersey in Morzine on Sunday, as Monday's rest day means he can recover from his efforts. "I'm not too bad in the high mountains when I'm in form," he said. "I was fifth already on the Mont Ventoux at the Dauphiné one year, and seventh in a stage to L'Alpe d'Huez. It'll just be about giving everything I have, and worrying about the rest later..."