Known as a rider who always attacks and willingly takes his chances, Bakelants, 27, took the win by one second and in doing so, earned the honor of wearing the yellow jersey in his first pro victory.
Bakelants: “I see in the final that it’s going to happen and I knew I would probably also take this yellow jersey. Maybe it will be the first and the last time in my career, but today I wear it. I saw in the last 500 meters that I still had a gap and I told myself, ‘Come on, hold this. It’s going to be the nicest day of your life!’ And then I did it,” he said, chalking up his first win after five years as a professional.
Bakelants is participating in his first Tour de France: “It is so incredible for me to take this jersey and to give something back to the team after all the misery that I’ve had this year. When I crossed the finish line I was overwhelmed with joy.”
At 6.4km/4mi Bakelants broke away with five other riders who quickly established a small gap of six seconds. Initially working well together to try to gain more, Bakelants continued to contribute to the effort and the gap widened. At 1.8km/1mi to go, Bakelants rose out of his saddle and put in a dig that immediately gapped off the others and the Belgian rider held his advantage all the way to the line, taking one second over Peter Sagan (Cannondale) and Michal Kwiatkowski (Omega Pharma-QuickStep). He leads the Tour de France by one second to David Millar (Garmin-Sharp) and Julien Simon of Sojasun.
Bakelants: “Coming in the last 10km we were quite a big group and I cannot win in a sprint. I had to gamble and go. When we were six in the finale I knew if everybody gave 100 percent that it was possible to go to the finish. It felt so easy in the break and every time I went to the front, I felt like I rode faster than the other guys. I don’t know, maybe I was just stronger than the others. In the end I was thinking, ‘Come on! Are we going to ride and be the first six riders or are we just going to wait for the bunch to come back and see another win of Sagan?’ I kept the gap and in the radio they were shouting for me to go. I was pushing my 11 and it didn’t look good but I went fast. I just kept pushing the pedals. And when I looked back and saw I had it, I said, ‘I’m going to win! I’m going to win a stage in the Tour de France!’ I’ve had to wait five years but what a victory. It’s hard to believe but it’s the second day of the Tour so now our nerves are settled. It’s incredible.”
In 2008 Jan Bakelants was voted Best Young Rider of the Year, after winning results in the Tour de l’Avenir, U23 Liège-Bastogne-Liège, Tour de Liège, Circuit des Ardennes, Flèche Ardennaise and Tryptique Ardennais. His results led to his first pro contract in 2009. He has participated in the Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a España, two times each, coming close to victory in those grand tours, but this was his first participation in the Tour de France. Known as a tenacious rider who is always willing to put in the hard work, Bakelants took the bronze medal in the recent Belgium national championships behind teammate and gold medal winner Stijn Devolder. On the personal side, Bakelants holds a Bachelor degree in Bioscience Engineering and trained for cycling at the Vlaamse Wielerschool (Flemish Cycling School) where he immediately showed his quality all-around cycling skills.
Jan in yellow“I’m incredibly happy,” Bakelants concluded. “I think it’s going to be a short night tonight; I don’t think I’ll sleep much.” Asked if he has GC aspirations, the Belgian rider replied, “We have to be realistic. I don’t have the separation like Chris Froome and I don’t climb like him or Contador. My goal was to win a stage but I didn’t think it would happen so fast. After the Belgian championships I could dream and could see in my data that I was in great shape. But then to go against the best riders in the world here and win, that’s another thing. I did it. I will never forget this.”
More info at the First Endurance web-site: firstendurance.com.