Ruben Guerreiro almost pulled off the biggest moment of his young career by nearly winning the queen stage at the Baloise Belgium Tour Saturday, only beaten to the line in the final meters of stage four by breakaway compatriot Maurits Lammertink of Katusha-Alpecin.
It was a monstrous effort from the young 22-year-old Portuguese, who joined a strong 12-man breakaway, then later attacked and instigated a five-rider selection that held off a furious chase from behind.
In the final climb with four kilometers to go Lammertink launched a searing attack, and only Guerreiro had the legs to follow. It was a big effort to close to the Dutchman's wheel, and Ruben had little left in the tank for the two-up sprint.
"When I saw Greg (Daniel) go with the first break, I was ready to go with the next one," explained Guerreiro. "When I saw that Katusha (Alpecin), Lotto (Soudal) and Quick-Step all had riders there, I knew it was a good move. With 35 kilometers to go, I was feeling strong, and I went, and that made a split in our group.
"On the last climb, when Lammertink went, I managed to go with him but I was at my limit, so I waited until the last 200 meters to try. But when I started my sprint I felt immediately that I could not come around him."
For [Ruben] to be fighting at the end, in the toughest stage of the Tour, it was just an amazing performance.
The team plan going into the stage four was to put the climbing legs of Greg Daniel or Ruben Guerreiro in the day's breakaway, and both young riders rose to the occasion, not an easy feat when everyone and their dog wants to be there.
"The team was super today!" beamed director Dirk Demol after the race. "Greg (Daniel) joined the first break of 14 riders that went, and when that was brought back, Ruben went with the next one. It turned out perfect. I am so proud for Ruben, he was very strong today, and it was a pity he could not have won, but for him to be fighting at the end, in the toughest stage of the Tour, it was just an amazing performance."
"I can say that the race has been a big success for us. We also wanted to try for a high GC, but today was a bit too hard for Matthias (Brändle) , and he lost contact on a steep climb, so that's off the table now, but winning the TT was a goal, and today with Ruben almost winning the queen stage… Yes, we can be happy with our race."
Sometimes coming that close to victory is hard to stomach, but for a neo-pro like Guerreiro, it was a fantastic day, one he will remember for a while. There are those who view second place as the first loser, but today for Ruben, without a doubt, he was the second winner.
"I was very happy to be able to race for the win today. I was believing that I could win until the last kilometers," said Guerreiro. "I am a little disappointed to come so close, but I am very happy with the second place."