Thomas De Gendt said he “didn’t really believe he could win” after he attacked alone 60km from the finish of stage one of the Volta a Catalunya.
The Lotto-Soudal rider joined the day’s six-man breakaway in the hopes the escapees could hold off the peloton, but opted to drop his companions a long way from home.
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While the move looked doomed, a lacklustre chase from the bunch meant the Belgian could hold his advantage over the challenging parcours.
De Gendt told cycling news site Wielerflits said: “I didn’t really believe in it, but the gap remained more or less the same.”
He added: “I absolutely wanted to be in the breakaway to aim for the stage win.
“I was riding at a very high pace, hoping the strongest would survive but only Luis Maté (Cofidis) was able to follow.
“However, he could not take the lead anymore and he just stayed in my wheel until the next hill.
“I attacked again and he had to let go.”
With 60km to go, De Gendt started his solo ride to the line without much hoping of stage victory.
But the peloton did not mount a chasing effort, as the gap went back out to 4-20 with 28km to ride.
With 6.6km to ride the gap held at 3-25 as it became clear De Gendt would take victory in Calella.
He said : “In the weeks between Paris-Nice and the Volta a Catalunya I am usually in great shape.
“I always look forward to this period.
“In Paris-Nice my form only went upwards, so I felt excellent.”
He now leads the general classification by 2-48 over Maximilian Schachmann (Bora-Hansgrohe), but is not hopeful of his chances overall.
The 32-year-old added: “On the first day, there is no GC leader yet, so then it is difficult to find a team willing to lead the chase.
“For the sprinters it was a bit too tough today and I responded well to that.
“On top of that, I think the GC riders will not care too much about me. The two uphill finishes could make me lose fifteen minutes, so it does not really matter that I am two minutes ahead now.”