Tour de France: Yellow jersey a dream come true for Gaviria and Colombia

Fernando Gaviria admitted to feeling the butterflies ahead of his Tour de France debut, but he could hardly have looked more assured as he sprinted clear to win the opening stage of the race. The prize, as if he needed reminding, was the yellow jersey.

"I can't describe how I feel because it's something you can't put into words," said the Colombian after his first trip to a Tour de France podium in Fontenay-le-Comte.

The maillot jaune, he noted, is "something every rider dreams about", but it holds special significance given his nationality. Before today, despite the exploits of Lucho Herrera and Fabio Parra in the 1980s, and more recently the so-called golden generation of Nairo Quintana and others, only one Colombian had worn it: Victor Hugo Peña back in 2003.

"This jersey means much more to a country like Colombia, where we have fought so much for it," Gaviria said. "Many Colombians have tried to get it, and only one had managed it, but now we have it again.

"I know Peña, I've spoken to him before, but I don't have a relationship where we're speaking on a regular basis. He's a great person – at the moment he's running a team in Colombia. The most important things is that, finally, after 15 years, we've managed to put another Colombian in the yellow jersey."

Too add to the history-making, Gaviria pointed out his status as a sprinter in a country that has been put on the map almost exclusively by climbers.

"It's the first time the yellow jersey been obtained in a sprint, which is a step forward for the country," Gaviria added.

Before the race Gaviria had suffered a considerable setback in losing Iljo Keisse, a key part of his lead-out train, through illness. The Belgian, he said, was an expert in guiding him through the final couple of kilometres before Max Richeze unfurled the final lead-out, but Gaviria seemed to cope just fine without him as his Quick-Step Floors team dominated the closing kilometres.

The team's GC rider Bob Jungels even played a role as the Belgian team led from the front in a messy finale and delivered Gaviria perfectly to the final couple of hundred metres, whereupon he kept Peter Sagan and Marcel Kittel at bay in convincing fashion.

"The work of the team was fundamental to this victory," Gaviria said. "They did a stupendous job. We were working from the start of the stage with Tim Declercq, and the whole of the rest of the team was strong and put me in the best possible position for the sprint.

"To beat Sagan is always important – he's one of the strongest riders in the peloton, a phenomenal rider and a great companion who I really admire. It's an incredible day. It's something I dreamed about – winning at the Tour de France and getting this jersey. It's now time to enjoy it."

Green jersey

As well as at the finish line, Gaviria caught the eye at the intermediate sprint, where he didn't hold back in his efforts to be the first from the peloton to cross the line. He did so, edging out André Greipel, Arnaud Démare, Mark Cavendish, and Sagan.

"I did the sprint because the team wanted to do it, and I wanted to do it to wake up the legs and see how I was feeling. I was taken aback by how crazy the intermediate sprints are here at the Tour de France. It goes as if it’s the finish line."

As well as waking up the legs, the intermediate sprints also carry the rather more obvious attraction of points in the green jersey classification. With 13 points at the intermediate and 50 at the finish, Gaviria now leads the points classification from Sagan – a five-time winner – by 26 points.

As such, Gaviria also technically holds the green jersey as well as yellow, though in practice it should be worn ‘on-loan’ by the world champion on stage 2, which should see them go head-to-head once again.

Gaviria won the points classification along with his four stages at last year's Giro d'Italia, and the green jersey is something that's clearly on his mind, though he insisted it won't define his debut Tour

"If we look at it, Peter is the favourite. He has won it five times, so he has to be the favourite," Gaviria said.

"I’ll take the green jersey day-by-day, and first of all try to enjoy the race. If I have it in Paris, that's great. If not, no worries. I'll still have enjoyed the Tour and at the least I'll have won one stage."

Indeed, Gaviria said before the Tour that he'd received some advice, urging him to make reaching Paris his only goal, and to just enjoy the ride – the highs and the lows – over the three weeks.

Gaviria's teammate Philippe Gilbert, however, suggested that once he gets off the mark at this Tour de France it will be difficult to stop him, and he could end up with a big haul of stage wins.

The 23-year-old has been described by his team manager as one of the hungriest riders he's ever seen, and he has been widely tipped to build a palmares that will make him one of the greats of the sport. After winning a full four stages on his Grand Tour debut at the 2017 Giro, Gaviria is once again, therefore, having to balance those instincts and expectations with the humility his inexperience demands.

If he reaches Paris with this his only stage win, he can't be too disheartened, but as he said: "Every time I pin a number on, I want to win."

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