Van Avermaet, who had the unique honor of being the most recent Belgian to wear the Maillot Jaune at the Grand Depart in Brussels, had his sights set on the first polka dot jersey of the race and attacked as soon as the flag dropped at the start of the 194.5-kilometer stage.
In somewhat of a surprise, the peloton allowed Van Avermaet and three riders (Bernae – COF, Meurisse (WGG), Würtz Schmidt (TKA) to quickly gain a three-minute advantage to all but ensure the King of the Mountains jersey would be won by one of the quartet, with both climbs, the Mur de Grammont and the Bosberg, coming in the first 50 kilometers.
The quartet’s advantage settled at three minutes, twenty seconds as they reached the Mur, the 1.7-kilometer climb with an average gradient of 7.8 percent, that Van Avermaet has tackled on countless occasions.
Berhane attacked at the foot of the climb but Van Avermaet’s familiarity on the cobbles saw the Classics specialist overtake him and power ahead to claim the KOM sprint in front of an enormous crowd on the Mur, this time in July instead of spring.
Meurisse was second to Van Avermaet on the Mur and with Berhane and Würtz Schmidt dropped, they reached the Bosgerg ahead, where Meurisse took the honors and Van Avermaet crossed the line in second place, to secure the polka dot jersey.
With his first goal of the Tour de France achieved, Van Avermaet dropped back to the peloton where things settled with 140 kilometers of racing still to come.
Apart from a moment of chaos when splits in the bunch formed and the breakaway was caught approaching the intermediate sprint, where Van Avermaet sprinted to third place, the race restarted with Stéphane Rossetto (COF) attacking solo in the final 50 kilometers.
The sprinters’ teams took control of the chase and slowly brought Rossetto’s advantage back to eventually catch him with 13km to go, to set the stage for the bunch sprint, won by Mike Teunissen (Jumbo Visma).
Van Avermaet crossed the line in the peloton to secure the polka dot jersey on CCC Team’s first day at the Tour de France, as the first Polish WorldTour team in the history of the race.
Quotes from the Finish Line
Greg Van Avermaet:
“I was very motivated to do something on my home soil. It’s probably the only time in my career when the Tour de France includes the Mur, which is close to my home and it’s always special when you get to race in front of your home fans, friends, and family. The Mur itself was very nice, with a lot of people and a great atmosphere but, you still have to go first over the top. It was not as easy as it may have seemed on the TV. Meurisse is a strong rider and I was worried about him. I’m happy that I was able to take the first KOM and get the jersey for at least the next two days. It was good to have a plan and I knew that if I pass the Mur first it will be enough to secure the jersey after the stage and I was focused on that. To be honest, that caused a little bit of stress for me at the start but, everything went well and tomorrow some people may be surprised to see me in a jersey like this.
It’s always good to start the Tour with something. A stage win is nice, but the jersey is also special. My goal was to do something in Belgium. I got the jersey which I will try to keep for a few days and then focus on stage wins. We are very motivated for tomorrow’s team time trial and even though it’s not the same team as in the past, I still believe that we have a strong group of riders who specialize in TTT. Winning may be impossible, because of the level of other teams in this race, but finishing in the top five would be a very good result for CCC Team.”
Fabio Baldato, Sports Director:
“That was the plan, to go for the polka dot jersey. We wanted to have something from the beginning, especially in Belgium, where Greg wanted to showcase himself in front of his home fans. He was one of the first ones to attack and fortunately, that move went clear. We are aware that we won’t be able to keep the jersey until the end but it was our way of showing everyone that we are here and ready. We also wanted to give Greg the opportunity to ride aggressively on his home soil. He is a Belgian and an Olympic champion so, it was a special moment for him and for us. It’s a very nice Grand Depart for CCC Team.
“Was I surprised that other teams let him go clear? Yes, and no. It was only a four-man group and if it was a bigger one, then probably the opening kilometers would have played out in a different way. It was a sprinters’ stage and some other guys wanted to save energy for tomorrow’s team time trial, which is important for the GC teams.”
Tour de France
Stage One: Brussels > Brussels (194.5km)
Top 3: 1. Mike Teunissen (Jumbo Visa), 2. Peter Sagan (Bora hansgrohe), 3. Caleb Ewan (Lotto Soudal).
CCC Team top 3: 11. Greg Van Avermaet, 26. Patrick Bevin, 112. Michael Schär