Vuillermoz, 27, was the first Frenchman to win a stage in the 2015 Tour de France and he captured it with class, accelerating away from yellow jersey Chris Froome (Team Sky) and the rest of the favourites in the group at 800 metres from the finish line.
He had already shown promise in this year’s Grande Boucle when he captured third place in stage 3 on top of the Mur de Huy.
“I can’t believe it, it’s not possible,” said Vuillermoz, who sank to the ground to recover after crossing the finish line. “I still can’t believe it. It was a violent effort. It took me some time to realize what I have done. Now that I’ve recovered, I realize that I did it. It’s difficult to realize that I won a stage in the Tour de France.”
The Frenchman accelerated a couple of times on the straight climb in Brittany. The first half of the Mûr-de-Bretagne climb was the steepest and suited him the most.
“I tried about two, three times. In the steep part Adam Yates was still on my wheel so it was smart to wait a bit. Then I recovered a bit on the wheel of Froome. The third effort was the good one. In the final metres I closed my eyes because I was so tired and worried. After the line I sank to the ground because I couldn’t believe that I won a stage in the Tour. It’s enormous.”
Vuillermoz, who is a former mountain bike racer from the Jura region of France, captured 11th place in the general classification of the Giro d’Italia last year, in what was his first season on the WorldTour.
Although he was capable of dropping all of the GC contenders on the short finish climb in Brittany on Saturday, he was careful not to assume that he could do the same in the high mountain stages still to come.
“It was a stage that suited me,” Vuillermoz said. “The team rides each day for the rider who can win the stage. I’m not like Romain Bardet or Jean-Christophe Péraud. I’m more a puncheur climber. It’s great that I can win on a finish that suited my abilities to perfection. It’ll be different in the high mountains. Then I’ll support the riders who can perform well on those terrains. I’m perfectly aware that they’re better than me.”
In the general classification, Vuillermoz is currently sitting in 26th place at 5:26 minutes down on race leader Froome.
Frenchman gives thanks for his success
Vuillermoz is one of several mountain bike racers to successfully switch to road racing over the years, with teammate Jean-Christophe Péraud as one of the best examples.
During his career on the mountain bike, Vuillermoz was twice French champion in the under-23 category and was part of the French team that captured the world champion title in the cross country team relay in Val di Sole in 2008. During his transition to the road, he said that he has taken his time to understand the sport with the help of his teammates.
“I want to remain humble. I’m cautious. I take my time. It’s only my third season as a road racer. It’s a big success to win a stage in the Tour. I’m glad to have teachers like Jean-Christophe Péraud, Romain Bardet and Christophe Riblon.
“I never knew much about the cycling culture. In mountain bike racing I always used to attack the established names. Now I’m doing the same on the road. All riders have two arms and two legs so I don’t mind to try an attack. Chris Froome is a great champion and he’s a much better rider than me. But in cycling one can also win when riding smart.”
He has experienced several setbacks over the years, with the worst in 2011, when he slammed into a female spectator at the finish of the Tour Alsace. Doctors held him in a medically induced coma because of the head trauma to avoid brain damage.
Two years ago, he was on the verge of quitting the sport after his Professional Continental team Sojasun came to an end.
After crossing the finish line on the Mûr-de-Bretagne with the stage win, Vuillermoz dedicated it to his late father, and thanked several individuals who have helped him through his ups and downs over the last few seasons.
“I dedicate my win to my father, who passed away three years ago. He was passionate about the Tour de France. I hope he saw me today and hope he’s proud of what I’ve done today. Together with my cousins, we watched the Tour de France from the roadside when I was younger.
“The other person I want to thank is Daniel Germond, who helped me to race for AG2R when I was out of contract two years ago,” Vuillermoz said. When the Sojason team came to a conclusion at the end of 2013, Germond stepped in and helped Vuillermoz find a spot with the AG2R though Vincent Lavenu, paying his salary.
“Also Jean-Baptiste Quiclet, my coach who convinced me to switch from mountain biking to road cycling. Yvan Clolus, my old coach who’s like family to me. My whole family has been supportive in my dream to become a professional cyclist.”