One season rolls by and then another, but Thomas De Gendt's ability to snatch prestigious stage wins remains undiminished. In the Volta a Catalunya's stage 3 on Wednesday, the Lotto-Soudal rider pulled off one of his most spectacular victories to date.
De Gendt's success, his third stage win in the Volta, came after a day-long breakaway, first in the company of four other riders and then alone with 28 kilometres to go, finishing on the line with 20 seconds over the main pack.
A dangerous late four-rider attack with Simon Yates (Michelton-Scott) and Nairo Quintana (Movistar) meant that rather than allowing De Gendt to open up a decent margin, the Belgian came within a whisker of being caught up in the GC battle behind. After his wins in Port Ainé and Barcelona in previous years, De Gendt now has a third Volta stage win in his palmarès.
As well as the stage victory, the Belgian is now the new race leader and tops the King of the Mountains classification to boot. But as he said afterwards, he had no idea that he could take the win "until there was 200 metres left to go.
"I knew there was still a little bit of uphill in the final two kilometres and I could see the banner, but it was a headwind and I knew there were some very strong riders behind me. My legs were really exploding."
The late evening finish was, curiously enough, another factor that played against De Gendt. "I was trying to look back but with the sun" - by then it was very low in the sky - "I couldn't see much. I thought there was somebody coming but it was a motorbike, so I was trying to sprint for the line anyway. It was only with 200 metres to go that I thought I could win."
Of his three stage wins, De Gendt said that his victory two years ago at the Pyrenean summit finish of Port Ainé had been harder to get. "It was more difficult, but this one is almost equal. There was no big climb in the final, but the headwind meant I couldn't go much faster than on a climb, anyway. So it was almost as difficult."
When asked whether he thought he could defend the overall lead, De Gendt was not at all optimistic. "No, no no," he said when asked about his chances of doing so. "I took this lead because I was in the bunch on the first two stages. It's a really big bonus but normally, in La Molina, if the stage plays out as it usually does, it'll be too much for me."
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