Jumbo-Visma have enjoyed a dream start to the Tour de France, taking victory on the opening two stages in Brussels and holding the yellow jersey for two stages. Stage 5 saw them come close to making it three, as multi-discipline prodigy Wout Van Aert took second in the reduced bunch sprint in Colmar.
The youth classification leader beat big names like Olympic champion Greg Van Avermaet (CCC Team), European champion Matteo Trentin (Mitchelton-Scott), and Michael Matthews (Team Sunweb) to the line, but green jersey Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) proved too fast to overhaul.
"It's a great result," Van Aert told a cluster of reporters after the finish. "I should really get a lesson from Mike [Teunissen, who beat Sagan on stage 1]. Sagan sprinted a little stronger than me."
Riding the wheel of compatriot Van Avermaet in the final kilometre, Van Aert kept cool in the final 200 metres, when Trentin and Sagan launched. He jumped 50 metres later, passing Trentin before the line, but couldn't get up to Sagan, who crossed the line a bike length ahead.
"My position wasn't bad at all but finishing a bit shorter would've been better. So I'd say we're doing a great job," he added. "Sagan is a great victor. It's too much to say that I was better today.
"Today I survived a little bit over the hills, and some guys suffered even more and lost power in the sprint. I tried my best and I got second place so it's good."
Van Aert, racing his first full season on the road this year, has excelled throughout the year so far, and is making his Tour debut with high expectations hanging over him. Recent form has seen him take back-to-back wins at the Critérium du Dauphiné – a time trial and a sprint – plus the Belgian national TT title, results which mean this one has been far from unexpected.
After the stage 2 team time trial, Van Aert has lay second overall – first to Teunissen and now to stage 3 winner Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-QuickStep). But with the first summit finish of the race coming at La Planche des Belle Filles coming up on stage 6, few expect him to hold position at the top of the rankings.
"I think it's a lot," Van Aert said about Thursday's stage. "But we will see. I know the region; I've done all the climbs before. I heard that the last climb is even longer now. Tomorrow will not be my day."
The 24-year-old added that he will fight for his white jersey on the multi-mountain stage through the Vosges, but with Colombian climber Egan Bernal (Team Ineos) lying just 26 seconds down, it looks to be a tall order.
Still, if sprints and hills are his cup of tea, then Van Aert should find more joy – and maybe even a stage win – during the Tour's second week, full of transition stages between Belfort and Toulouse. There are plenty of opportunities left for stage 5's runner-up, the man who, before the race began, modestly stated that finishing the race would be his personal ambition.