Niki Terpstra (Quick Step) and Mickaël Delage (FDJ) were among the five-man breakaway that dominated much of the proceedings on stage 3 of the Tour de France. With the 198km-long stage to Redon seemingly destined to finish in the sprint, both men eyed up the single king of the mountains point on offer atop the Pont de Saint-Nazaire as a recompense for their efforts off the front.
Ultimately, it was Delage who reached the apex of the bridge first and the Frenchman also took the intermediate sprint and the day’s combativity prize, while Terpstra was left empty-handed as the break was swept up in the final kilometres of a stage won by Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Cervélo).
Delage and Terpstra went clear inside the first kilometre of the stage, in the company of José Ivan Gutierrez (Movistar), Maxime Bouet (Ag2r-La Mondiale) and Rubén Pérez (Euskaltel-Euskadi).
Terpstra felt afterwards that the reduced number of points on offer for category four climbs meant that fewer riders were willing to gamble a day off the front in an early break, and theirs was the first and only attempted escape, as had been the case on Saturday.
“Clearly nobody was interested in the sole point at stake for the best climber competition,” Terpstra said. “It was my only goal because if [Philippe] Gilbert still had another jersey, there was a good chance the winner of that point would ride in the polka dot jersey tomorrow. We quickly gained a nice lead.”
For his part, Delage simply wanted to free the clutches of the peloton and enjoy a different view of the race, even if he realised that theirs was a doomed effort. “It was good to pass the time in front,” he said. “Waiting in the peloton until the bunch sprint comes isn't that much fun either and this way the time went by quicker.”
The 25-year-old Frenchman wasn't completely happy with the cooperation in the group, however. “It's difficult as it was five against two and not everybody rode to the maximum,” Delage said. “If that had been the case we had a chance but this way it would be difficult.”
Delage specifically viewed Terpstra as one of the least cooperative riders. After the race, Terpstra didn't hide that he wasn't riding flat out.
“Why would I? The peloton was playing a cat and mouse game with us,” he said. “When approaching the Pont de Saint-Nazaire they were coming really close and the minutes from our lead were flying away. I told the others to go off the gas. That way the peloton would have to ease off in order to keep us in front.”
Eventually the five riders arrived at the impressive Saint-Nazaire bridge over the Loire river with a lead of about two minutes on the peloton. “It looked more impressive than it actually was,” Terpstra said. “The last part isn't steep so it was a sprint with headwind rather than an uphill sprint.”
Eventually it was Delage who attacked and won the sprint, and Terpstra wasn't surprised. “Compare his sturdy legs with my thin ones. When the breakaway took off and I looked around I thought: 'damn, there are some strong guys here,'” Terpstra said.
The Dutchman also revealed that he was suffering with stomach problems during the stage. “I wasn't feeling good,” Terpstra explained. “After 10km I realized my stomach wasn't good. Once the gap was seven minutes I really deliberated on taking a bathroom break. I didn't do it because you don't often have the chance to be in the mix for the polka dot jersey.”
In the end the point winner didn't receive the jersey because Gilbert didn't keep his green jersey, and hence moved into the polka dot one instead. Delage didn't mind too much, however, because he's good friends with the Belgian rider, with whom he moved to Lotto in 2009.
When asked if he thought his friend would be back in yellow on Tuesday, Delage had his doubts. “It will be hard for him. He might take time on Hushovd but on Cadel Evans it will be much harder,” said Delage.