Tour de France: Keukeleire comes close for Belgium in Salon-de-Provence
Orica-Scott rider third on national day
A stage winner at last year's Vuelta a Espana, Jens Keukeleire was aiming to add a Tour de France stage win to his growing palmares on Belgium's national day. The Orica-Scott man was one of 20 rider's to make the stage 19 break from Embrun to Salon-de-Provence which the peloton let decide the stage.
Coming into the tight and technical Salon-de-Provence finale, Keukeleire was well positioned to his fast kick and sprint for the win. However, an innocuous looking roundabout with 3km to race ended his hopes for a stage win as Nikias Arndt (Sunweb) and Edvald Boasson Hagen (Dimension Data) went from last to first when they took the right-hand side option. Despite a pre-race talk highlighting the importance of the roundabout, Keukeleire missed the move and had to settle for winning the sprint for third place.
"It would have been nicer if I had have won but of course it's nice to get on the podium. We did almost everything we had to do. We had to get in the break, that was the first thing, we had to reduce the size of the group, that was the second thing, and the third thing was to finish it off and we just couldn’t manage to do that," said Keukeleire who was dreaming of winning Belgium's first stage of the 2017 Tour. "In the breakaway, I believed in my chances to win at the Tour de France. It was a dream. It would have been fabulous on Belgium's national day. I'm a bit disappointed but I can't live with regrets.
"We had talked about a roundabout in the bus. It was better to take the right side but that wasn't really on my mind. I knew the final and I only realised it once we were already on the roundabout. If Boasson Hagen goes, then you know that you shouldn't give him more than 10metres. He's one of the strongest riders in the world."
The result was Keukeleire's second best in a Grand Tour following his Vuelta win and is Orica-Scott's best yet of the 2017 Tour. While the team is likely to finish the race without a stage, the Australian squad is all but assured of repeating its white jersey success. A year ago, it was Adam Yates in white while 2017 has been Simon's turn with the 24-year-old hoping for a stress and mechanical free stage 20 time trial.
"I don't know a lot about the course tomorrow. It looks pretty technical on paper, and we will go and check it out in the morning before the stage," said Yates who has led the young rider classification since stage 5. "A time trial is always difficult no matter where it is or how it is. You need to put in your maximum, and I will be looking to do that tomorrow, hopefully without any issues like mechanicals or crashes."
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By Josh Croxton