Wout van Aert stopped near his wife Sara and baby Georges after the stage 3's Tour de France sprint to Sønderborg, letting out a ‘verdomd’ - ‘damn’ in Dutch, as he tried to find consolation from his young family after a third consecutive seconds place in this year's race.
Several teammates rode up to him but he showed further disappointment with himself.
“I have finished second now three times in a row, but this one was one I had in my own hands. It’s the first big disappointment,” Van Aert admitted.
“The past two days I got beaten by stronger riders. Dylan [Groenewegen] was strong today, but I think I pulled too soon off the wheel of Christophe Laporte. I went too early into the wind.
"If I’d just sat there and waited a little longer, I'd have won. This sprint was about centimetres and so this was just a big mistake on my part.”
Van Aert’s only consolation was that he kept the yellow jersey for another day and so collected another Crédit Lyonnais lion for Georges on the podium.
“It’s nice to have yellow. It was really special today to wear it,” he said.
“There were massive crowds on the side of the road but a lot less stress in the bunch, so I had some time to look around and enjoy this special day in my career.”
Van Aert admitted that he had seen Peter Sagan angrily wave his finger after him but he dismissed suggestions that he had deviated off his line in the sprint and pushed Sagan towards the barriers.
“I saw him come past me, and I saw him trying to say something, but I could not understand him with all the noise,” Van Aert said dismissively.
“I wasn’t sure that he was complaining about I don’t know how far he ended up or what happened there.”
Van Aert took the rider charter flight from Sønderborg to Lille soon after the stage as the Tour de France wrapped up the Grand Départ stages in Denmark and transferred to France. Van Aert can enjoy being race leader during Monday’s rest day but plans to keep his legs turning for the days to come in northern France.
“It will be a bit strange to have a first rest day so soon, it’ll be new for me,” he admitted.
“I know myself, so I have to keep the engine turning on Monday to have the good legs on Tuesday. I also want to rest up after travelling but this is something new for me.”
Van Aert wants to keep the iconic yellow jersey until Wednesday’s highly anticipated stage over the Paris-Roubaix cobbles and perhaps beyond, even if a defence of yellow could tire his Jumbo-Visma teammates, who also have to support Primož Roglič and Jonas Vingegaard in the fight for overall victory and help van Aert try to win the green points jersey.
“What's coming will be really demanding, every stage has tricky parts, like the cobbles but it's in my favour when the stages are a bit harder,” Van Aert said.
“I’m looking forward to these stages, we’re looking forward to combining our two ambitions of green and yellow. We’re in a good place for green, we’re in a good place in GC, we stayed out of trouble in Denmark, and Jonas and Primož are looking strong."
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Stephen is the most experienced member of the Cyclingnews team, having reported on professional cycling since 1994. He has held the position of European editor since 2012 and previously worked for Reuters, Shift Active Media, and Cycling Weekly, among other publications.