After all the hype, all the speculation about crosswinds, the bridge was “boring”. Not my words, but the words of the Tour de France’s new yellow jersey, Wout van Aert.
In the end, nothing really happened. Sure, there was a crash on the first bridge which formed part of the Great Belt Link, but the riders caught up in it came back. There were no echelons as the peloton spent 12km over the water, not something they are used to, no real drama. Yves Lampaert might have though differently, the previous race leader forced to chase after hitting the deck, but it was no drama. Fabio Jakobsen won Quick-Step's Alpha Vinyl's second stage in two days, and the race moved on.
Van Aert described the time spent in the middle of the sea as “an easy part without public on the side of the road”, and that’s all it was really. To go back to Lefebvre’s ideas of space, the lived experience for the riders was one of relative calm. Bike races aren’t usually this calm so close to the finish, especially not the Tour de France, when everything is up for grabs.
“The headwind was so strong it felt like after 180km of race pace it felt like a training ride,” the Jumbo-Visma rider said. “We were barely riding 30km/h. It was close to the finish so there was no freedom to look around and enjoy it.”
Another crash came later, after the bridge, but that was nothing to do with the unique nature of the bridge, and more a classic example of narrow roads causing incidents late on a sprint stage. Again, nothing came of it, as all the riders caught up in it claimed the same time thanks to the 3km to go rule.
It was pretty to look at, “something special” according to Van Aert, but as so often is the case in cycling, what actually happened failed to live up to what actually happened. Tour route designer Thierry Gouvenou will be cursing the Gods of wind tonight.
Van Aert claimed the lead in the general classification after he finished second on Saturday, the second consecutive stage in a row that he narrowly missed out on winning. It is becoming a habit for the Belgian, who has now finished second 25 times in his career. This has been a golden year for the 27-year-old too; out of his 24 race days, he has finished on the podium 16 times. A third!
“It’s always for some reason you finish second,” he said. “Sometimes it’s in your own head, you try to learn from it and get better. Sometimes you get beaten by stronger guys and today was a big example of this. I always say I’d rather be second than nowhere. This weekend I started with two seconds in the Tour but I get yellow with it. Going all the way you get the reward.
“You get more used to if it happens more. My experience in the last couple of years is that there is always another day. Last year in the Tour I always came up short for a lot of stages in the beginning, but I kept believing I could do it. Even the day before Mont Ventoux I got second in the bunch sprint. After I tried again and got the most beautiful victory of my career.”
There might not be a stage win yet - Saturday went the way of Jakobsen - but Van Aert has already taken the yellow jersey for his team, the ultimate goal of his colleagues Primož Roglič or Jonas Vingegaard. It is feasible to see him keeping it until the Tour reaches Belgium for stage six on Thursday, even if his lead is just one second. He is the definition of consistent in 2022.
He has also claimed the green jersey, his ultimate goal in this year’s race, and it might well not be prised off his back until Paris.
“Of course it feels nice,” he said of claiming the maillot jaune. “It’s the same jersey in the other races but of course this one means so much more. I’ve been hunting it for quite some time and really worked hard for it, so I’m happy and proud to wear it.”
The bridge might have been anticlimactic, but Van Aert will be hoping his peak is still to come.
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