Philippe Gilbert is well and truly enjoying his first Tour de France since 2013. The Belgian from Quick-Step Floors was feted on the morning on stage 3 in his hometown of Verviers and then celebrated his birthday on stage 5 by winning the combativity prize after a day in the breakaway.
Gilbert, who turned 35 on July 5, helped establish the early breakaway on the road from Vittel to La Planche des Belles Filles before helping set up Dan Martin for a second place finish.
With little chance of a breakaway staying away on the first four stages of the race, Gilbert explained that he believed in the chances of staying away and rolled the dice.
"I wanted to make the breakaway today because if there was a chance to win a stage from a breakaway this week, it was today. We never had a big lead but we kept believing we could reverse the situation," Gilbert said.
Gilbert, who won a stage of the race in 2011, added that a strong breakaway comprising of the likes of Jan Bakelants, Thomas De Gendt and Thomas Voeckler plus a peloton that wanted to contest the win ultimately meant they were doomed.
"The breakaway comprised many strong and experienced riders, so I guess that's why the bunch didn't give us too much space. Still, we worked together very well and pushed the peloton really hard," he said.
"I enjoyed the race a lot but the climb was very hard. It looked much easier when I watched it on TV."
Gilbert rode the La Planche des Belles Filles when it debuted in the Tour back in 2012 finishing over five minutes down on stage winner Chris Froome. On his second ascent of the climb five years later, Gilbert was over six minutes down on Fabio Aru, who won the stage, as he enjoyed the finale and return to the podium.
"It's nice to be on the podium here again and overall I can say it was a beautiful way to celebrate my birthday," he added. "I'm convinced there will be other opportunities in the upcoming stages, so I'm ready to try again."
With stage 6 into Troyes suited to the sprinters, Gilbert and Quick-Step Floors will be working for Marcel Kittel and aiming to add to his stage 2 victory.