Here’s a question: what would you do if you attacked from the gun on a 207km Tour de France stage and the peloton let you go — on your own?
That was the situation Guillaume Van Keirsbulck (Wanty-Groupe Gobert) found himself in during today’s fourth stage from Mondorf-les-Bains to Vittel. He admits the thought of a day spent alone battling a cross-headwind on tough, rolling roads wasn’t exactly the plan, but there was no going back once he found himself out front.
“Yeah, the first moment I thought ‘s***, I’ll go back’, but it looks stupid to come back. My directeur [Hilaire Van der Schueren] said some riders might join me, within five kilometres he said, but I saw nobody.... It was a long day.”
“It was a hard day. It was a whole day of headwind and sidewind,” continued the 26-year-old Belgian. “It’s never easy because you can’t ride on a wheel or sit behind a motorbike (laughs).”
Watch: Tour de France stage four highlights
He insisted however, that one thing it wasn’t was boring: “I’m enjoying it, it’s really nice to see all the people around the roads, it’s crazy from the start to the finish — one line of people. It was not a boring day.”
Van Keirsbulck — whose grandfather Benoni Beheyt won the World Championship road race in 1963 and now motorpaces him in training — was caught at 16km to go after 190km out front alone. It was, he pragmatically admitted, pretty much what he knew would happen.
“It’s not easy on a sprint stage to stay on the front, but you never know eh? If a team makes mistakes, it happens sometimes, but I think it would be too nice to win a stage of the Tour de France already.
“After the last climb I went full gas,” he added, “but I could feel my legs weren’t so good any more. It was also up and down, with a headwind…
Van der Schueren, for one, wasn’t complaining: “It makes me proud of the team because we are here fighting against the WorldTour teams,” he said. “When you see after 50km that the WorldTour teams work to chase after the small teams, then that’s great for us.”
He admitted that a day-long solo break wasn’t strictly the plan, but it had its benefits: “The plan was to go in a four or five or six rider break, but the other riders were not coming. He was alone and took all the publicity.
“It’s a physical thing, it’s a mental thing, it’s everything,” he said of riding in a day-long break. “I can say now that he is there on television, he gets a lot of publicity. Everybody knows him because he was one of the biggest riders in Belgium when he was young, but a few years ago nobody knew him. 2015, 2016 no prizes and now he make a very good one. In the beginning of a very big race for us, it’s very good for us.”
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After cutting his teeth on local and national newspapers, James began at Cycling Weekly as a sub-editor in 2000 when the current office was literally all fields.
Eventually becoming chief sub-editor, in 2016 he switched to the job of full-time writer, and covers news, racing and features.
A lifelong cyclist and cycling fan, James's racing days (and most of his fitness) are now in the past, although that doesn't stop him banging on tirelessly about "that one time" he nearly rode a 20-minute '10', and planning the big comeback that everyone knows will never actually happen.
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