Tour de France: Perfect day for Van Avermaet

Belgian captures stage win, maillot jaune in 'strange day'

With a tremendous effort in a long breakaway Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) captured the victory in Le Lioran and also took over the yellow jersey on stage 5 of the 2016 Tour de France from Limoges to Le Lioran, a mountain resort in the Massif Central. The Belgian rider completed the final 17 kilometres of the medium mountains stage solo, riding away from his final breakaway companion, compatriot Thomas De Gendt (Lotto-Soudal).

"For me it was a perfect day," Van Avermaet said during the post-race press conference. "For me it was a bit strange. Most of the times I'm a sprinter and I cannot enjoy the moment much because in the sprint you only know it in the last second if you're going to win or not. This time it was really special. You're in the biggest race of the year and you can enjoy the moment. That's something good."

During last year's Tour de France Van Avermaet captured a breakthrough victory in Rodez, beating Peter Sagan (Tinkoff) in a long uphill sprint. Comparing these wins wasn't too hard for the 31-year-old Belgian rider. "The yellow jersey is the most important for me. The stage win I had last year and that was really special. Wearing yellow for my type of rider is pretty hard to do. I was a few times close but if you're not the fastest sprinter or don't have the best time-trial then it's pretty hard to wear this. I will never wear yellow in Paris so it's good to enjoy this moment. It's good to have it for me. I've got another lion [podium present] too. I had one already. You know where it's going to be heading. It's going to be for Fleur [his daughter]. I left the Tour last year for her [birth]. Sunday, the last day in Paris is her birthday. It's a good moment."

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It took a long time before Van Avermaet started getting wins, even though he's been coming close for many years. He stormed to the front in 2008 where he won a stage and the points classification. After 2008 he needed three years before grabbing another victory. Despite or maybe because of his attacking style, he always featured in front but rarely netted the win. He turned things around in Rodez and also this year has gone well, until he crashed at the Ronde van Vlaanderen where he was the top favourite.

"This year was very good with the win in Tirreno [Adriatico] and Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. I was ready for the classics but then with the crash I think I lost maybe one or two big classics. But now winning in the Tour a second time and wearing yellow jersey a first time is for me a dream. It makes all the suffering and all the disappointments worth it. I never give up. It's the most important thing I learned in my career. I've always worked hard. I'm not always having luck in my life but after so many years and so many hard days, a lot of disappointments, there's also a lot of nice days."

Van Avermaet is known to be a classics specialist, a puncher with a good sprint. His climbing qualities were not known that well even though he displayed them before. "Three years ago I was also a climber when [Michael] Rogers won the stage [2014, Carcassonne – Bagnères-de-Luchon -ed.]. It was also close. I know that if I'm in a breakaway that I'm hard to beat; I can suffer a lot. It's just a big stage and I had good guys with me,” Van Avermaet said.

Before the start of Wednesday's stage Van Avermaet told Cyclingnews that he had his mind set on the stage. "I haven't been able to show what I'm capable of, so far. The previous days it was for the sprinters but today I really have to go for it. It's hot today. I'm a fan of the heat," Van Avermaet said.

He was well aware that the stage characteristics suited him but he hoped it wouldn't be a wide open race with multiple attacks from the GC-riders. Some teams were trying to hold off the yellow jersey during the first week of the Tour de France in order to save energy. Before the race Van Avermaet didn't expect to take yellow. "If you can take yellow then you've got to do it. It doesn't matter when or where. I'm a bit too far in GC to take it, I think. If I'm there then Sagan's usually around too," Van Avermaet told Cyclingnews. In the BMC-team Tejay van Garderen and Richie Porte are the protected riders and in case of emergency Van Avermaet needs to help them out. "I hope I don't have to do it. There's enough teammates to look after them. I'm not going to keep my eyes too much on them."

While thinking before the stage that he would be trying to hang on during the climbs and try to finish it in a sprint, it turned out to be a long breakaway effort. "It was a strange day. The second stage was also a little bit like that when Jasper Stuyven almost made it to the finish. I also had this idea in the morning in the bus that no team really wanted to suffer in the first week. With this in mind I looked who was going. Astana was going, Movistar tried to go in the break a few times. Then I saw a good moment.

"You have to be lucky in the Tour to be in the break, that's for sure. I think I picked the good moment. Then we went and [Rafal] Majka was there. Then I knew we had a chance because it's hard to bring the breakaway back. The most decisive moment of the race is that me and De Gendt attacked from the breakaway with three guys because we had only seven minutes. Nobody really wanted to make the gap bigger than that. Thomas and I went for it, full gas. We made the gap bigger, to 14 minutes. It was the most important moment of the day to take the yellow jersey and the stage win."

Van Avermaet will start the sixth stage in the yellow jersey with a bonus of more than five minutes over young Julian Alaphilippe (Etixx-QuickStep) and the rest of the GC-contenders.

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