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Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) sprinted to stage 1 victory at the Critérium du Dauphiné as the run-up to the Tour de France begins in earnest.
The Belgian national champion last raced at Liège-Bastogne-Liège where he finished third, bringing to an end a strong spring which included victories at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, E3 Saxo Bank, and Paris-Nice. In the weeks since, Van Aert has been looking ahead to his next big goal: the green jersey at the Tour de France.
“It was a really great spring season but I was not really always happy with the feeling in the sprint,” Van Aert said after winning the stage. “It’s definitely something we tried to work on in the past couple of weeks, and if it pays off immediately then it’s always a good feeling.”
Jumbo-Visma was ever-present near the front of the peloton during the 191.8 km stage from La Voulte-sur-Rhône to Beauchastel. This year’s Critérium du Dauphiné has very few opportunities for the fast men, and even stages that are marked in their favour present significant challenges. To get to the finish of stage 1, the sprinters would have to survive four classified climbs, the last of them (5 km at 5%) on the finishing circuit inside the last 40 km.
“If you look to the profile today you can expect a hard final,” Van Aert said. “There were a lot of teams who were interested in dropping a few sprinters. But I could hang on and I felt good for the sprint, so it’s really nice.”
Phil Bauhaus (Bahrain Victorious) and Dylan Groenewegen (BikeExchange-Jayco) were among the first dropped, and while they called back teammates in a desperate attempt to regain contact, the opportunists in the peloton took their chance to spoil it for everyone else.
The last 20 km were frantic, but with 2 km to go, most of the bunch was still together and preparing for the sprint. There was a nervous moment when Rémi Cavagna (Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl) attacked 1.5 km out, but Jumbo-Visma overcame a brief hesitation and closed the Frenchman down just in time.
“On the climbs I was quite comfortable,” said Van Aert. “Normally it suits me when there’s a hard final like this, but then in the sprint still there’s guys like [Ethan] Hayter and you have to beat them. He’s doing great this season so it was tough to boss him but in the end it happened so I’m happy.”
Van Aert was was forced to freestyle in the sprint, having cashed in Christophe Laporte to catch Cavagna, but he positioned himself perfectly in the finishing straight, ultimately coming off Hayter’s wheel to surge across the line. The Ineos Grenadiers leader held on for second, while third was taken by the young American Sean Quinn (EF Education-EasyPost).
With the stage win, Van Aert takes the first yellow jersey of the race, which he hopes to look after until his teammate and GC favourite Primož Roglič takes it over later in the week.
“We’re here with a strong team. I think the coming stages suit me quite well so definitely will try to defend if that’s possible. Then in the weekend of course I hopefully can hand it over to Primož, but there’s a lot of tough stages coming up first.”
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