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“Have you ever seen a film where the hero is a builder?” asks fictional political spin doctor Jamie McDonald in the satirical comedy In The Loop.
“No? No! Because they never show up in the nick of time!”
Jumbo-Visma’s Wout van Aert may possess talents uncommon to this Earth, a pocket-knife action man capable of pulling it out of the bag on any terrain, but for the past two days at the Critérium du Dauphiné his timing has not been that of a caped crusader.
There was the breakaway’s successful gambit on stage two, the early celebration on stage three, the requirement to wear the race leader’s skin suit in the stage four time trial likely costing him the couple of seconds he lost to the fully dialed world time trial champion Filippo Ganna (Ineos Grenadiers). The Belgian wasn’t exactly helping his image as the poster boy for agonising second places, an inexplicable record of runner-up-dom that sits awkwardly alongside his litter of top victories.
On stage five, however, Van Aert said it finally looked like it would be the first controlled stage of this week.
“We had the breakaway in check,” he said afterwards. “But then they started to speed up and we kept losing ground.”
The breakaway quartet containing Benjamin Thomas (Cofidis) and Jan Bakelants (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux) weren’t going down without a fight. With 3 km to go, they were still 300 m up the road. With 700 m until the line they still had a gap.
“In the final kilometres I was stressed it was too short to catch them,” Van Aert admitted, hoping his Jumbo-Visma team hadn’t left it too late once again. “But I think in the end I passed them a few metres before the line and I just could win.”
Into the finish, Thomas leapt from the breakaway and seemed to have a good gap, but then Christophe Laporte dragged Van Aert clear and the yellow jersey gobbled up the escapees. Bora-Hansgrohe’s Jordi Meeus pushed him all the way, but Van Aert didn’t make the same mistake as two days ago, an exemplary bike throw and then a look to his left to check he had indeed crossed the line first.
“If even your GC guys who weigh 60 kilos are pulling, you have to finish it off,” Van Aert added, the relief washing over him.[rrsummary id=268383 places=10]