Thomas De Gendt may not have won the combativity award at the Tour de France – but his colleagues in the peloton have been impressed on a daily basis by the Belgian.
Warren Barguil (Team Sunweb), the winner of the mountains classification, won the combativity prize despite De Gendt spending the most kilometres in breakaways over the course of the three week race.
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The 30-year-old has established himself as a perennial breakaway rider, and he ridden in a break in 11 stages of this year’s race; by his own estimations, he has ridden over 2,200km out in front in 2017 alone.
“He is a strange guy!” Olympic champion Greg Van Avermaet laughed. “Most of the riders think about saving, saving, saving, but he thinks about spending, spending, spending.
“He is one of the only guys I know who gets better riding into a Grand Tour and he is getting even better in the wind.
“It is a bit strange. He never does the logical thing. If he was not riding in the break, he was riding on the front of the peloton. He is a great athlete and is really strong in Grand Tours. I hoped he would have got the most combativity prize because I think he deserved it.”
Mat Hayman said that riding in the gruppetto each day makes it hard to determine the performances of colleagues in the race – “it’s sometimes better watching from the outside,” he said – but he too has been taken aback by De Gendt’s hunger.
He commented: “I saw something about how many kilometres De Gendt has been in the breakaway. The fact that he can pick it up and do it time and time again, that’s outstanding. People know he is going to go and he still goes, that’s impressive.
Similar praise was also reserved for the rider from Quick-Step Floors‘ Julian Vermote. “He is strong and he likes the break!” he said. “He has a strong head once he is gone.
“I pull along with him a lot with too and he is one of the best guys to pull with. He is a strong man.”
Two other riders were singled out for praise when asked who had impressed them the most. Barguil, Van Avermaet said, was “one of the strongest. He was not really on the radar before the Tour, not one of the favourites as he has had a bit of bad luck for the last two years.
“But he has ridden to the level he has promised before. He has been the biggest surprise for me.”
Marcel Kittel, who looked set to win the green jersey before he abandoned the race, caught the attention of Hayman who was pleased to see the German regain his form of yesteryear with five stage wins.
“It’s nice to see Marcel back to where he was,” the 2016 Paris-Roubaix champion said. “Obviously he rose to fame winning a lot but has then had a tough period.
“It’s always good to see someone bounce back like that.”