The long breakaway move at the Tour de France's stage 6 from Abbéville to Le Havre included Cofidis rider Kenneth Vanbilsen, who was one of the many riders involved in a crash during stage 5 and hurt his knee. Not only did he manage to start the stage, he ended up in the day's breakaway.
"It was a matter of self-defense," Vanbilsen explained. “Today I received a free role, also because of my knee. My uncle came to me before the start of the stage. He told me that the early breakaway move possibly would receive some distance today. That’s when I started thinking about it. Today I’ve been out of the chaos. I feared the pushing in the peloton and a possible new crash that would worsen the situation of my knee.”
Also in the day's move were Eritrean rider Daniel Teklehaimanot (MTN-Qhubeka), who captured the polka dot jersey and Perrig Quemeneur (Europcar).
During the stage Vanbilsen got some treatment for his knee sores, while Teklehaimanot grabbed the points for the mountains classification and Quemeneur won the intermediate sprint points.
Though the trio in front collected an advantage of more than 10 minutes, the peloton always had them under control. His two companions up the road seemed satisfied with their achievements and weren’t pushing on to stay away, Vanbilsen sensed.
“At 15 kilometres from the finish I felt that I had something left in my tank. It seemed like the others were no longer co-operating. That’s why I attacked. Apparently they were at their limit. I felt that I would be faster alone than together... then you have to try it. All or nothing.”
Vanbilsen pulled off a strong solo in the final kilometres. He was hammering at more than 60 km/h through the streets of Le Havre but at three kilometres from the finish he was caught by the peloton.
For the 25-year-old, who his making his debut in the Tour de France, it was an unexpected experience to ride out front so late in the race. “I didn’t expect it, really. You try to get as far as possible and see where you get. Against a chasing peloton on your own it’s not easy. I was riding at 60 km/h most of the time. It’s not possible to ride much faster on your own.”
There was little reward for Vanbilsen as the prize for the combatif du jour, the most aggressive rider, went to the French rider in the group, Quemeneur.
What Vanbilsen will do later on in the Tour remains to be seen. He was here to feature as second-last rider in the lead-out train of sprinter Nacer Bouhanni, who abandoned after crashing on stage 5. “It’s a shame Nacer is gone as the team was built around him. He wanted to have me in the team. We’ll have to race differently. We will probably ride more like we did today. In the sprints we’ll go for Geoffrey Soupe.”
After six days in the Tour de France, the Belgian debutant acknowledged that everything he has heard about racing in the prestigious event seems true. “The Tour is impressive. I expected it to be big but not this big. There’s a lot of stress that comes along with it.
"All day long it’s very nervous. It seems like it’s the a day-long nervous race like the Ronde van Vlaanderen or Paris-Roubaix every other day. Some told me that it’s mainly in the first week but once the race hits the mountains the GC is more clear and it will calm down.”