Wout van Aert says it hurts to come so close to the Tour de France's yellow jersey and miss out, but says he couldn't have done anything to stop Julian Alaphilippe on Monday's stage three.
Alaphilippe took a magnificent solo victory and the yellow jersey to Épernay after attacking on the final classified climb with 16km remaining. The Frenchman took the overall lead from Van Aert's team-mate Mike Teunissen, who was dropped on the early slopes of the final climb.
Van Aert, who eventually finished the stage in ninth place 26 seconds down, had a chance to take the maillot jaune if he was able to finish in the front group, but could do nothing to stop Alaphilippe's stinging attack to go solo.
"We started the day with two options, me and Mike, but at some stage Mike came up to me and told me he was not feeling good today, so I was free to play my cards," Van Aert said after the stage.
"My aim was to stay as long as possible up there and fight for the yellow jersey. These climbs were way steeper than I expected. It feels bad to be so close to the yellow jersey and not getting it. I couldn’t do more.
"I was with the GC riders in the fight. We did a perfect job but Alaphilippe was stronger than the whole bunch. At the end it’s a worthy winner. I’m quite happy with keeping the white jersey."
The 24-year-old remains in second place overall at 20 seconds to Alaphilippe and still holds the white jersey of best young rider. Van Aert will have little opportunity to try and overhaul that gap and take yellow in his Tour debut however, with a sprint stage coming up on stage four before the race heads into more mountainous terrain on stage five.
The first summit finish then comes at La Planche des Belles Filles on Thursday's stage six, where the three-time cyclocross world champion will almost certainly tumble down the overall rankings as he looks to support the team's GC hope, Steven Kruijswijk.
For stage four though, he'll refocus on helping Jumbo-Visma's sprinter Dylan Groenewegen to victory. The Dutchman missed out on the win on stage one after crashing with 1.5km to go, though team-mate Mike Teunissen was able to pull out a surprise victory instead. Jumbo-Visma then capped off a perfect weekend with a crushing victory in the team time trial on Sunday.
"We’ve had an extraordinary weekend but from tomorrow on, we’ll go back to our initial goals: GC with Steven [Kruijswijk] and stages with Dylan [Groenewegen]," Van Aert added.
"He’s recovering well, so we’ll chase the victory with him tomorrow.”
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