"Unreal, bro!" Harry Sweeny's elated interruption of Brent Van Moer's post-stage press interviews summed up his Lotto Soudal teammate's stage-winning performance on the opening day of the Critérium du Dauphiné perfectly. It was unreal, for all kinds of reasons.
The most obvious was because Van Moer's solo success in Issoire came just six days after he had been denied a debut professional victory after being sent off course in the final few hundred metres of the Ronde van Limburg when he was away on his own.
"A few days later, I started thinking about the Dauphiné. I wanted to show here that I'm in good condition, and today I think I showed that I'm in really good form," said the 23-year-old Belgian, who in midweek received an apology by phone from the marshal who unwittingly sent him off course.
It was also unreal because Van Moer was in the breakaway from the third kilometre of what is the longest stage in this year's Dauphiné, and then found himself on his own after he followed Lotto DS John Lelangue's instructions to go "full gas" on the penultimate climb to see if he could hold off the bunch, which was chasing hard.
I was watching this duel on the big screen at the finish with a Belgian journalist, who told me: "He's like Thomas De Gendt this guy, he never knows when to give up and he'll keep going right to the last moment."
Van Moer's impressive record as he came through the junior and U23 ranks attest to this quality. Silver medallist in the time trial at the World Championships in Innsbruck in 2018 and fifth a year later in the same event in Yorkshire, the young Lotto Soudal rider is clearly talented when it comes to solo efforts. A close second place to Mads Würtz on the penultimate stage of this year's Tirreno-Adriatico also demonstrated his ability to hold his own in the biggest races.
It was also unreal because Van Moer was in the break on the opening day of last year's Dauphiné, only to crash out following a tangle with fellow breakaway Quentin Hermans that forced the two Belgians to abandon. Sidelined for a month, Van Moer performed well enough during the rescheduled Classics to earn himself a place on Lotto's team at the Vuelta a España, which he went on to finish.
Van Moer, whose father Jo is the founder and CEO of one of Europe's largest logistics company and who also happens to invest substantially as a sponsor in Belgian junior cycling, explained that Lotto's goal going into the stage was to get a rider in the break. Once he'd managed that, his focus turned to picking up points in the King of the Mountains competition. Only when he and his two breakaway companions reached the final 37km circuit around Issoire did he start thinking about the stage win.
"Yesterday we did a recon with the team, so I knew the local lap really well and all of the corners. I also knew the last 10 kilometres were almost all downhill until the finish line and that there were some tricky corners, which would make it difficult for the sprint teams to work together," he said, his face beaming as brightly as his yellow jersey.
"I came here to show myself in one of the stages but to take the yellow jersey… this is just a dream."
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Peter Cossins has written about professional cycling since 1993 and is a contributing editor to Procycling. He is the author of The Monuments: The Grit and the Glory of Cycling's Greatest One-Day Races (Bloomsbury, March 2014) and has translated Christophe Bassons' autobiography, A Clean Break (Bloomsbury, July 2014).
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