Before Friday, Edvald Boasson Hagen had finished a frustrated four times in the podium places but shy of the stage win at the 2017 Tour de France. His fifth try was the lucky one, as the Norwegian soloed to victory from the breakaway on stage 19 in Salon-de-Provence, but luck had little to do with his success.
Boasson Hagen's Tour de France has been frustrated by two narrow sprint defeats where he was denied by photo finishes – the first against Marcel Kittel on stage 7 and the second against Michael Matthews on stage 16. On top of that, he was third in the bunch kick in Pau and third on the uphill dash in Rodez.
Finally, on the longest stage (222km) of this year's Tour, he clearly had the power to escape the clutches of the breakaway, but he also knew that the decisive factor would be an angled roundabout 2.9km from the line and chose his moment to attack.
While seven members of the remaining lead group of nine, who clearly hadn't done their homework, went the long way round on the left, Boasson Hagen and Nikias Arndt snuck through on the right, and they were away.
"This morning I watched a video of the roundabout and we knew I had to be on the right-hand side," said Boasson Hagen in his stage winner's press conference.
"I don't know if everyone did a recon before. Sometimes you forget what happens in the meeting and you follow the rest of the guys. Or maybe the others just didn't know it. I knew it, and I did the right thing, and I'm just so happy about it."
Boasson Hagen, untrusting of the photo finishes that have been unkind to him so far, still wanted to dispose of Arndt, and he did so just a few hundred metres later. He was helped by another piece of planning: a larger-than-usual front chainring he'd had fitted for the finale propelled him all the way to the line.
"When Nikias Arndt couldn't follow I just had to go full gas for the line," he said. "I was afraid of people making final attacks – I didn't want to wait for the sprint, but also had some confidence for the sprint. It was nice to make the decision before and not end up with it at the finish, like before."
Boasson Hagen won two Tour de France stages with Team Sky during his much-hyped younger years, and this is his first since joining Dimension Data in 2015. After Mark Cavendish crashed out on stage 4, the 30-year-old has taken up the mantle for the team.
"It was a pity when we lost Mark but the team was motivated for the whole Tour de France from the beginning. We can't just sit down and do nothing for three weeks," said Boasson Hagen.
"The whole team has stepped up and worked hard for me. I've just been the wrong side of the line all the time, many times, but it's really nice, for me and the team, to finally get a success."
Boasson Hagen's finishing speed at this Tour has marked him out as a strong candidate for the final-day sprint in Paris on Sunday, not least because many of the top-tier bunch sprinters have gone home. Marcel Kittel, Arnaud Demare, Mark Cavendish, and Peter Sagan are all absent, while the accumulated fatigue and the slightly uphill cobbled drag of the Champs Elysées make it an open contest.
"I've been close on the Champs Elysées before. This Tour I've been up there in the sprints and we are ready to give it a go," said Boasson Hagen.
"It's rare that you manage to take this victory but we'll see. We've lost a lot of sprinters but there are some strong guys still here."
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