Wanty-Groupe Gobert off to a good start in Tour de France

Smith's polka-dot jersey, Van Keirsbulck's breakaway bolster Belgian team

For the second consecutive year, the Belgian Wanty-Groupe Gobert team were invited the Tour de France. Halfway into the first week of 'La Grande Boucle', the team has been able to leave their mark on the race.

Dion Smith wore the polka-dot jersey of best climber for three days. On Tuesday, Guillaume Van Keirsbulck featured in the long breakaway of four riders. Team manager Hilaire Van der Schueren was pleased about how his team's race was going so far.

"We've had the polka-dotted jersey for at least four days with Dion Smith," Van der Schueren said. "Before the race, I would've signed for that. It's a pity that Guillaume Martin lost a lot of time already because the team time trial went better than anticipated. He lost 50 seconds in the first stage and then again 1:30 due to the crash, that's a pity. Then again, when looking at the upcoming stages in the Alps, I'm confident that two minutes aren't a lot."

Last year, Guillaume Martin finished 23rd in his first Tour, finishing third in the mountain stage to Station des Rousses. This year, the 25-year-old won the Circuit Cycliste Sarthe–Pays de la Loire and finished 12th in the Critérium du Dauphiné.

The breakaway of four riders collected a lead of nearly eight minutes on Tuesday, but the peloton kept the leaders in check. "I told them to start racing at 25 kilometres from the finish," Van der Schueren said. Suddenly the gap dropped back to three minutes.

"De Gendt was putting the hammer down. They were playing with it in the peloton. Also, the peloton accelerated only at 30 kilometres from the finish. The headwind in the final kilometres killed it for us," Van der Schueren said.

Nevertheless, the leaders nearly sprinted for the victory on Tuesday as the peloton's chase was disrupted because of a major crash at five kilometres from the finish in Brazeau. At two kilometres from the finish line most of the riders in the group sat up when Guillaume Van Keirsbulck continued solo. He was only caught back when passing under the flag of the final kilometre.

"It's a pity but at least I tried," he said. Van Keirsbulck is the 27-year-old grandson of 1963 world champion Benoni Beheyt. Last year, he left his mark in his maiden Tour de France with a solo ride of 190 kilometres. This breakaway was different as he was in good company with friend Dimitry Claeys and two French riders.

"I think the chances are better in a group," Van Keirsbulck told Belga and HLN at the finish in Sarzeau. "This morning [Tuesday] I texted Dimitri: 'want to join me in the breakaway?'. And so it happened. I briefly started believing that it was possible when we still had 3 minutes at 30 kilometres and still more than 2 minutes at 20 kilometres. I'm disappointed.

"The headwind and the climbs in the final kilometres hurt us a lot. The finish was 900 metres too far for me. We did hurt them again with our effort. I'll have to recover from this effort for a couple of days. In the stage to Roubaix, I want to show myself again."

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