The Belgian star is now the best-place rider from Jumbo-Visma, after chosen leader Primož Roglič fell out of contention on the penultimate climb of stage seven.
While Van Aert has previously been tipped as a potential general classification contender for the Tour in future, even trying his hand at GC racing at Tirreno-Adriatico earlier this year, the 26-year-old has dismissed the idea of challenging for the overall victory in this race.
Speaking after stage seven, where he jumped into the day’s breakaway to move up one place, Van Aert said: “Definitely I’m too heavy to go for GC but for now I’m in good position and it’s nice to give it a go like this.
“I had big plans today. I wanted to be in the break. I gave it a try for the stage win and maybe to gain something in GC.”
But Van Aert said his day in the breakaway was more inspired by his desire to wear the yellow jersey and usurp his great rival Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix), rather a genuine attempt to win the Tour de France.
When asked how prepared he was to become the Jumbo-Visma leader, he said: “Not ready at all.”
Roglič, runner up in last year’s Tour, had been suffering from injuries he sustained in a crash on stage three, but was just about clinging onto his GC hopes after the stage five time trial.
The Slovenian then fell out of contention on Signal d’Uchon, around 16km from the finish of day seven, eventually losing almost four minutes by the finish.
As the Tour now heads deeper into the Alps on stage eight, Jumbo-Visma has lost all of their GC hopefuls, with Roglič, Kruijswijk and Sepp Kuss all well out of the race.
But Van Aert, a cyclocross, time trial and Classics specialist, remains near the top of the standings, just 30 seconds behind Van der Poel and 3-15 ahead of race favourite Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates).
After Van Aert and Van der Poel both battled to try and drop each other in the final of stage seven, the pair eventually began to work together to try and pick up time in the general classification.
Van Aert said: “ I was the biggest contender for Mathieu in GC so it’s quite normal he didn't let me go. At some point we also decided to work together so no hard feelings.
“I took some time on the real GC riders, so the yellow jersey is still close but also today was really hard, so I need to recover and see what I can do tomorrow and when the real mountains start.”
Thank you for reading 5 articles this month* Join now for unlimited access
Enjoy your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1
*Read 5 free articles per month without a subscription
Join now for unlimited access
Try first month for just £1 / $1 / €1