Former champion Wout van Aert soloed to an unforgettable Tour of Britain stage victory in Felixstowe on Thursday to move into the race lead with just three days of this year’s race remaining.
Just as another bunch sprint and a record-breaking win for his Jumbo – Visma team-mate Olav Kooij looked inevitable, van Aert sprung clear with 900 metres remaining and caught his GC rivals napping.
Despite a headwind finish along Felixstowe’s sun-drenched Sea Road, the Belgian star somehow held on to win by three seconds and usurp Kooij from the top of the overall standings.
Great Britain’s Ethan Vernon won the bunch sprint for second, narrowly ahead of BORA – hansgrohe’s Danny van Poppel.
Van Aert said: “It wasn’t planned way before, but it came up yesterday evening. It’s just nice to try something different if you can. In the previous stages, we saw teams trying to get on our wheels going into the final bends. You can see from the footage from yesterday there were 10 riders on Olav’s wheel not wanting to spend their bullets at one kilometre to go, so we took it as a chance. Even if it didn’t work, the bunch sprint was still there for Olav to do.
“I think it’s up to the others to try and chase us now, especially now I have a few seconds in the lead, but we still want the overall.”
A five-man break led as the race headed towards the Orwell Bridge but were caught by the pack on the approach to the day’s first Pinarello king of the mountains climb at Freston. Nonetheless, competition leader James Fouche – who was part of the quintet – made sure he was on the front of the peloton to take maximum points over the top.
The main breakaway of the day finally went clear with 160 kilometres remaining. TDT – Unibet Cycling Team kept up their 100% record of breakaway appearances thus far as they sent Abram Stockman into the group. He was joined by Callum Ormiston (Global 6 Cycling) and Joey Rosskopf (Q36.5 Pro Cycling Team).
They held firm until 20 kilometres to go, when Ormiston was first to be dropped. Stockman was next to fall short, while Rosskopf battled heroically but was reeled in by the peloton shortly before the cranes at Felixstowe Docks came into view.
Predictably, Jumbo – Visma took control of proceedings, with Nathan Van Hooydonck and Edoardo Affini setting the pace. Just when it appeared that van Aert would lead the pack around two left-hand turns onto the promenade, he sprung the most unexpected of surprises.
His victory means he now leads by three seconds, while team-mate Kooij remains in both the cottages.com points and the Sportive Breaks best young rider jerseys. Fouché’s points haul today further solidified his lead in the Pinarello king of the mountains standings.
Stage six of the Tour of Britain covers 146 kilometres through Essex from the start on Southend-on-Sea’s seafront to the finish on Harlow’s Third Avenue. The stage begins at 11:45.