De Gendt defends Vuelta a Espana king of the mountains victory

Belgian responds pointedly to Van Impe's criticism

Thomas De Gendt (Lotto Soudal) has responded sarcastically to Lucien Van Impe’s dismissal of his victory in the king of the mountains classification at the Vuelta a España. The Belgian pointed to his own palmarès, which includes a victory on Mont Ventoux and a podium finish at the Giro d’Italia.

In an interview with Sporza, Van Impe – a six-time winner of the polka-dot jersey at the Tour de France – complained that “the mountains jersey is no longer worth the same as it used to be.” While the 1976 Tour champion stressed that he respected De Gendt as a rider, he noted that the best climbers are no longer attempting to win king of the mountains competitions at Grand Tours.

“I have a lot of respect for him, he tries to grab that mountain jersey at almost every race,” Van Impe said of De Gendt, but added: “The real climbers are not fighting for the mountains jersey. Maybe they have to invent something else; I know how I won my jerseys.”

Van Impe had already expressed a similar point of view when Richard Virenque overhauled his and Franco Bahamontes’ joint record of polka-dot jerseys on the Tour in 2004, and again in 2010 when the hitherto unheralded Anthony Charteau carried the jersey to Paris.

De Gendt took to Twitter on Monday to offer a pointed rebuttal of his fellow countryman’s critique of his king of the mountains victory.

“I am a little ashamed that I have won it,” De Gendt wrote. “I am sorry to be on exclusive lists where I do not belong. (Stage winner 3 Grand Tours, podium Giro, mountain jersey Vuelta) #everythingwasbetterinthepast”

De Gendt has carved out a reputation as a breakaway specialist over the course of his career and has scored some of his most noteworthy victories in the high mountains.

In 2012, De Gendt soloed to victory atop the Stelvio on the penultimate stage of the Giro d’Italia, a performance that helped him reach Milan in third place overall. On the 2016 Tour, De Gendt beat Serge Pauwels and Dani Navarro to stage victory at Mont Ventoux on a day where the headlines were dominated by Chris Froome and Richie Porte’s collision with a motorbike.

De Gendt completed a full set of Grand Tour stage victories by winning into Gijon on last year’s Vuelta. In this year’s race, he overhauled Luis Angel Maté (Cofidis) in the final week and then held off Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo) to win the king of the mountains competition for the first time in a Grand Tour.

“I’m very proud of this jersey. It’s a jersey I’ve fought for in several other Grand Tours, so I’m really happy I finally can take this one home," De Gendt said on Sunday. "As it was really hard to win a stage, I started focusing on the KOM classification from the 13th stage onward."

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