For the third day in a row, Wout van Aert finished stage 3 of the Tour de France with a number two by his name as Dylan Groenewegen narrowly beat him across the line.
“Three times second and coming closer every day, but this one was definitely the one I had in my own head, the first big disappointment I would say,” Van Aert said after the stage, admitting that maybe he’d launched his sprint a little early. “The past two days I got beaten by stronger riders, and for today Dylan was sure strong, but I had to wait a little longer in the wheel of Christophe [Laporte]. It was my own fault, I was too early in the wind.”
As the Tour leaves Denmark, Van Aert has plenty of opportunities to go one better, especially in the coming week.
“What’s coming will be really demanding,” he said. “After the rest day, every stage has tricky parts, something special like the cobbles. Personally I would say it’s in my favour when the stages are a bit harder. I’m looking forward to this and am looking forward to combining our two ambitions.”
While Van Aert remains in the yellow jersey that Jumbo-Visma hopes to see on the back of Primož Roglič or Jonas Vingegaard before Paris, it’s the green jersey of the points classification that the Belgian is here for, and he’s so far on track; after three stages, he has a 17-point lead over pure sprinter Fabio Jakobsen.
Sure, Van Aert would love a win and 17 points isn’t exactly huge – Jakobsen would take the lead with one more stage win, and he could well on Tuesday’s stage 4 – but it’s a long race and the points classification is designed for consistency and versatility on all terrains.
‘Consistency’ is the operative word. Just ask Peter Sagan.
Last decade, the Slovakian dominated the green jersey competition, winning it seven times between 2012 and 2019 (2017 the only exception after his disqualification on stage 4). He won 12 stages along the way, but in that time Sagan also became known for finishing second. Of his 47 podium finishes across ten Tours de France, a massive 22 were one short of victory – equalling Erik Zabel’s runner-up record.
After four stage wins across Sagan’s first two successful green jersey campaigns, 2014 was the first of two years straight without a stage victory. His list of results in the first seven days was a remarkable 2, 4, 2, 4, 4, 5, 2, and he took another second and third each before Paris. Infuriating? Maybe. But it worked.
With his fourth Tour underway, Van Aert has now amassed seven stage wins (including a TTT), two thirds and five runner-up spots. This is the first year he’s set his sights on green though, so we’re expecting to see him in the mix and freed of team duties more than in previous Tours.
With another likely sprint on Tuesday’s stage 4, the ‘Paris-Roubaix’ stage on Wednesday and an uphill dash before the first visit to the mountains at the end of the week, Van Aert’s first seven days could well look very like Sagan’s in 2014. But as we’ve established, it works.
For now, Van Aert is doing his best to neutralise his disappointment by reminding himself of the jersey he gets to wear.
“I think I’d rather force myself to be happy with this position,” Van Aert said. “I dreamed for a long time to wear this yellow jersey. It’s been a big goal this whole season. Everything is going really good. But like you say, I like to win races. But then if you come close like I did the past couple of days it’s sometimes with mixed feelings.”