Paris-Roubaix winner Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing) was in the thick of the action on stage 3 of the Tour de France, and despite missing out on the win to Classics rival Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe), the Belgian was upbeat to have taken a chance.
Van Avermaet was well positioned but could not match Sagan in the uphill finish on the Côte des Religieuses in Longwy. He was fourth behind stage winner Sagan, Michael Matthews (Team Sunweb) and Daniel Martin (Quick-Step Floors). Behind the top four, there was a gap of two seconds.
"I was super good today. I'm really happy. Maybe I could've done a better sprint but that's about making choices" Van Avermaet said shortly after crossing the finish line in Longwy, France. "Finishing fourth on a finish like this is good. There are not many riders who can beat Sagan. I'm super strong in the Classics. I can beat him at the finish in the Classics but in stage races, this suits him much better."
The BMC team comes to the Tour de France with Richie Porte as one of the overall favourites, but Van Avermaet defended his fight for the stage win as a benefit to the team and Porte.
"It was actually really good. We kept position for both of us. Ritchie was well placed. I was well placed. We had both options to play. It was the best approach, not to lose time," Van Avermaet said. "Maybe you gain some seconds on other guys if you're on the front of the peloton. Riding in the wind was better than riding in 30th position. From there, only the legs are important."
Porte had accelerated in the final kilometre and briefly held a gap on the peloton. Van Avermaet said it wasn't part of the team's plan, but it was good that Porte did it.
"Everybody was on the limit and the pace didn't drop. That was in my favour because you couldn't get boxed in. That way, he didn't lose time either," Van Avermaet said.
Soon after Porte was brought back, Sagan moved to the front and Van Avermaet was quick to accelerate to try to force the world champion's hand. But Sagan suddenly lost his pedal.
"I tried to go from far out. It was an attempt to make Peter go early so that I could get in his slipstream. He saw it but then he lost his pedal. I immediately came level with him, into the headwind," Van Avermaet said.
"It was too far to keep sprinting flat out. In a straight duel, it was hard to beat him. I chose to get back on his wheel but I failed to hold onto it. It's a pity that he lost his pedal. Otherwise, I maybe could've gotten in his slipstream and - who knows - maybe even pass him. He was the strongest rider out there. Everything had to go perfectly. I'm pleased with how I did it," Van Avermaet said.
Van Avermaet will probably have to wait for stage 14, from Blagnac to Rodez before he gets another chance for a stage win. In 2015, he captured a breakthrough victory in Rodez, beating Sagan in a thrilling uphill sprint.
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