Overdue stage victory more important than leader's jersey for De Clercq

Belgian faces fight to defend his lead in the mountains on Friday

Bart De Clercq was never considered among the favourites to win the Tour de Pologne but he gave himself a fighting chance of doing so when he moved into the yellow jersey by virtue of a late attack and solo victory on stage 5.

It is a position the Lotto Soudal rider has found himself in before; just over five months ago he unexpectedly took the race lead partway through the Volta a Catalunya ahead of an even more established group of favourites. That lead proved to be fleeting and De Clercq, knowing that the same fate may await in Poland, found far more value in the substance of the stage win than the lustre of another spell in a WorldTour leader's jersey.

The only time he has ever crossed the finish line in first place was as a neo-pro at the Giro d'Italia in 2011 and, more than four years on, the 28-year-old feels this second victory is well overdue.

"The jersey, it's a nice thing, but the victory is more important than this jersey," he told a group of reporters underneath the towering Wielka Krokiew ski jumping venue in Zakopane.

"It has been quite a long time. I did it as a neo-pro so I had to wait a pretty long time, so it's really a big relief that finally the next win is here. I'm really happy with this win. I really needed it actually.

"For the moment I'm really happy that I've had this win. Now there's the opportunity of a nice GC [position] but first I'm going to enjoy this victory."

Once it has all sunken in, De Clercq and Lotto-Soudal's thoughts must turn to how they will defend the jersey against the likes of Fabio Aru and his Astana team who were very forceful today. Friday's queen stage features a tougher parcours still, with the same number of eight categorised climbs but a with the addition of a proper uphill finish. If he can hang with the pure climbers, De Clercq would be a solid final-day time trial performance away from winning a first stage race of his career.

"It will be really hard to defend this jersey but I'm going to try my best to do it. I know there are still two hard days. The guys behind me are pretty close so it will be hard to defend it but now we have it we'll try our best," he said.

"My time trialling is average – I'm not so bad but I'm not a specialist. There are other guys who are stronger in the time trials, but I'm in good shape for the moment, so why not? There is a really strong Astana team with Fabio Aru and all his team. There are a lot of other strong riders – all the guys in the top 15 today will also be the guys who I'll have to watch for the GC."
 

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