Belgian Serge Pauwels revelled in securing the first victory of his 12-year professional career after winning the Tour de Yorkshire on Sunday, and said he hoped this would be first of many victories to come
The 33-year-old Dimension Data rider crossed the line in Sheffield just ahead of team-mate Omar Fraile after attacking solo with 11km to go on Côte de Wigtwizzle, before time trialling to the finish. Fraile bridged the gap to his team-mate in the closing stages, with the Belgian crossing the line first.
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Pauwels, who has raced for Team Sky and Quick-Step Floors during his career, has come agonisingly close multiple times to a win but not managed one until now, taking both the stage three victory and overall title in Yorkshire.
Last year he was second on the Tour de France stage to Mont Ventoux after getting dropped by Thomas De Gendt in the closing kilometres, while he finished third on stage two of the 2016 Criterium du Dauphiné. He joined Dimension Data – then MTN Qhubeka – in 2014.
“It feels a bit strange actually, the first time I can raise my hands,” Pauwels said after his win.
“In general people will not really be surprised that I take a win because I have been quite close, for example last year on Mont Ventoux stage or the Dauphiné I’ve been second, third, fourth, everything except from winning.
“Now I get two wins at the same time so it’s special.
“I’ve been always fighting for it and I think actually these days in cycling it’s not a bad things to get older – you see [Alejandro] Valverde and other riders still performing very well at an older age.
“I think that is also the case with me, I’ve always tried to be professional through my career and I still love my sport a lot and maybe this is the start of more victories.”
After Pauwels attacked he stretched his lead out up to 30 seconds, but with the terrain unrelenting in the final 20km taking the riders up and down constantly, the chasers at one point clawed him back to within five seconds.
He revealed his directeur sportif Roger Hammond instructed him not to turn around but concentrate on riding.
“Roger Hammond he kept telling me in my ear that I was not allowed to look back so that’s what I tried to do, just look in front and ride a 10km time trial,” Pauwels said.
“He literally told me ‘if you look back one more time that’s it for today’, so I kept looking in front.”
It was only when he spotted Fraile’s wheel did he realise someone had caught him, with the duo deciding the winner between themselves.
“The first thing I saw was his front wheel, and I recognised the wheel because it’s and Enve wheel so it’s the same wheel I’m riding,” he continued.
“I wondered whether the whole group was there but then he took over and said ‘come on let’s go’, he said something like ‘it’s [the win] for you’. I think it’s a great gift for him to give me the victory, although I think I also deserve it.”
The 194.5km stage from Bradford to Fox Valley, Sheffield, was the toughest, and most gruelling of the race’s three stages, featuring eight classified climbs, with four coming in quick succession in the final 20km.
The final four climbs did indeed split the peloton, which had remained largely together until that point, and a select, reduced group of riders remained at the head of the race, featuring Pauwels, Fraile and another team-mate Jacques Janse Van Rensburg.
“To be honest I was expecting a harder race from the start, but because of a headwind all day the peloton was still all together towards the final circuit,” Pauwels continued.
“That actually made me a little bit nervous because I’m not really an explosive rider and I actually wanted a hard race the whole day.
“I was not really thinking I could finish it off, I was thinking that Omar Fraile had better cards for us, but I think I chose my right moment to go and luckily I still had two team-mates behind to control the rest of the chasers.”