Jasper Stuyven put on a thrilling performance in stage two of the Tour de France as he valiantly tried to hold off the peloton in the closing kilometers only to be caught 450 meters from the line.
Stuyven narrowly lost taking home a prestigious Tour victory in the nail-biting ending, but was first over the final category-three climb to secure the polka dot jersey, and also earned the combative award for the stage. To Stuyven, though, these were little consolation in overcoming the disappointment of missing the victory.
"It's nice to have the polka dot jersey although I am not really a climber, and it's nice to be on the podium," said Stuyven. "It's a good thing to have this after today, but that was not what I was going for in the final and right now I can only feel disappointment. When you are that close to a stage win in the Tour… In the end, I was starting to believe in the victory, and that makes it a huge disappointment."
" looked back at the top of the KOM and saw a Tinkoff guy coming, and I knew they were pulling for Sagan, and they were not going to slow down.
Stuyven joined three others early in the 183-kilometer stage to form the day's breakaway, a move that looked hopeless with many hungry and fresh teams vying for a win only two days into the Tour and the prestigious yellow jersey on the line.
But when the gap held steady to the leaders, down to three men in the final part of the stage, and the teams appeared to play a poker game in the pursuit, the tables turned in favor of the escapees.
Clearly the strongest, Stuyven jumped away from his compatriots on a climb with less than 9 kilometers remaining and set his sights on the finish. Stuyven looked to be on his way to a thrilling victory in his first Tour until the road pitched steeply up 1.5-kilometers from the end and decided else wise.
Stuyven: "I knew what was coming because we had a video of the finish from Josu (Larrazabal, Head of Performance). I knew it was going to be hard, so I just tried to spin, keep a high cadence and keep the power going. Everything was going well until the steepest part, right after the roundabout, I had a really hard moment to push the watts. My legs were empty.
"I looked back at the top of the KOM and saw a Tinkoff guy coming, and I knew they were pulling for Sagan, and they were not going to slow down. You know then it's over. Then you hear they are coming, and they pass you, and you just crack.
"I am disappointed because maybe I won't get this close again. I had good legs, and I knew I was the strongest of the group, but when you don't win it's always a feeling a little bit of disappointment.
"I tried my best. This is the Tour, and I came here to not just be one of the 200 riders. I wanted to show myself; I felt good yesterday already and today I was aiming higher. It was nice to be up there in the Tour and maybe tonight and tomorrow I will be more happy with what I have done."
Trek-Segafredo has made its presence felt in the first two days, earning trips to the podium for the best young rider and now the mountains jersey for their efforts. Although they missed out on the win each day they have played a significant part in each finale, finishing in the top ten both days.
Overshadowed by Stuyven's electrifying performance at the end of stage two, Bauke Mollema quietly grabbed the reins when his Belgium teammate was caught and sprinted to ninth place behind stage winner Peter Sagan (Tinkoff).
"I came to the front with a lot of speed," explained Mollema. "I was about to go and then got boxed in close to the front by a BMC rider, and I lost a lot of speed there. After this, the first riders were gone. My legs were good, and the most important was I did not lose any time. It was a shame that they took Jasper back in the final 450 meters. All day I was hoping he would make it, he was so close."
Director Kim Andersen agreed as he summed up the stage, which surprisingly turned into a close battle for victory:
"It was not the plan for Jasper to go into a small group - a bigger group, yes - but when you are there in the Tour de France, you don't stop. A breakaway like this you don't really think it's possible for the victory, but there was so much playing in the peloton, and they didn't know who should pull, and that's why they could go to the end. Then, we really thought Jasper could make. It was really close. I am so proud of Jasper."