Greg Van Avermaet emptied his "reservoir" on the seventh stage of the Tour de France as the yellow jersey holder defied expectation and increased his overall lead on the first mountain stage of the 103rd edition of the race. The BMC rider had moved into the race leader following his breakaway win on stage 5 and after an easy day on Thursday, the Belgian was on the attack during the stage from L'Isle-Jourdain to Lac de Payolle as he animated the breakaway.
"I knew it would be hard to keep the jersey today. I made a smart move I think to go in the break," Van Avermaet said. "It was a hard start and everybody wanted to go. We tried to control but at one point we were riding and they kept on jumping behind us and then I said maybe it's better that I save my teammates again and I just go by myself.
"It kept the pressure off the team, they didn't have to work that hard today and I keep yellow. It was a great day, it's not often you see yellow in the breakaway It wasn't easy but I gained some time."
Van Avermaet was BMC's sole representative in the large breakaway that contained a rider from all 22-teams bar Tinkoff. As the large breakaway started to split with rider making moves off the front, Van Avermaet found himself at the foot of the Col d'Aspin in a group that included Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), Dani Navarro (Cofidis), Daryl Impey (Orica-BikeExchange and Cannondale-Drapac's Alex Howes in chase of eventual stage winner Steve Cummings (Data Dimension).
The 31-year-old explained that while the steep slopes of the Col d'Aspin aren't to his fancy, he described that the power of the yellow jersey propelled him up and over the climb to extend his lead to 5:50 minutes over Orica-BikeExchange's Adam Yates.
"I've never thought I could win a second stage today. With Nibali, Navarro and Cummings in the front group, it was too hard to beat them. In the climb, I rode at my rhythm. I didn't want to go beyond my limit when Nibali attacked. I just wanted to defend the yellow jersey. Everyone wants this jersey for one day in his life, so to get it for one more day is worth some efforts. It's been a wonderful day again but I'm aware that it can be very hard tomorrow," he said.
With the Col du Tourmalet, the first HC ranked climb of the 2016 Tour, to be followed by a category 2, and three category 1 climbs, Van Avermaet is unlikely to spend a fourth day in the leader's jersey but isn't writing himself completely.
"I look forward to tomorrow as it's probably my last day in yellow. I will enjoy it, it's a mountain stage so we will see how it goes," he said