The heart of cycling has another Tour de France stage winner, 24-year-old Wout van Aert. The Belgian cylo-cross champion is a rookie in this year's event but has impressed already, and may not be finished yet.
Tears crept into 24-year-old Wout van Aert's eyes after his maiden Tour de France stage win on Monday.
The Belgian rider won a sprint finish by a matter of millimeters against Elia Viviani.
"To beat all the quickest guys in the sprint... I just can't believe it. It really tops everything else," the three-time cyclo-cross world champion said after the 214-kilometer (133-mile) stage from Saint-Flour to Albi. "Over the course of these 10 days I've been able to get a feel for just how important this race is. And to be able to impose myself on my first Tour, it's just ... wow!"
Viviani, Peter Sagan, Caleb Ewan and Michael Matthews were among the sprint specialists fighting for the stage win riding into Albi.
Van Aert's Jumbo-Visma team has now won four stages, with the Belgian youngster playing a support role in many of the team's strategies to date. On Friday, the Belgian shared a photo of him looking exhausted in the saddle, saying he had been glad to lay the groundwork for teammate Dylan Groenewegen to claim the stage.
"It got nervous towards the end," van Aert said of a stage in which severe crosswinds scuppered the hopes of several leading riders. "I managed to stay at the front and keep our team leader Stevie [Steven Kruijswijk] in a good position, but unfortunately Dylan was not in the leading group, so that meant I could play my own personal card in the sprint finish. It was really tight with Viviani but one centimeter is enough!"
Speaking to Dutch-speaking television, he added that he realized ahead of the sprint that this stage would be his chance to go for the win. "It's a special feeling to finish ahead of Ewan, Sagan and Viviani. I didn't think it would be possible for me to beat those guys."
Fast learner as he crosses over
The young cyclo-cross specialist, a member of the enormous pool of Red Bull-sponsored athletes across all manner of disciplines, only confirmed that he'd take part in this year's Tour in mid-June.
In just his first season of road racing, van Aert has shone. Judging by his victory at the Criterium du Dauphine, against all the sprint giants on the Tour, he could be one to watch in the individual time trials in Pau on Friday, July 19.
Having spent the early stages of the competition second in the overall classification, and as leader of the white jersey (for best young rider under 25), his participation in future years already seems assured.
Van Aert is just one part of a typically strong Belgian showing on this year's Tour, coming at a timely moment after the opening stage was held in Brussels. Dylan Teuns has already won one stage, as has Thomas de Gendt. However, the long-awaited overall victory may have to wait a few years yet: as it stands, Xandro Meurisse, in 19th and 3 minutes 42 seconds adrift of the lead, is the best performing Belgian rider in the overall classifications.
Van Aert's back in 55th, with more than half an hour to make up on Julian Alphaphilippe and Geraint Thomas. But he may yet hope to play a supporting role for his Jumbo-Visma team leader Steven Kruijswijk of the Netherlands, who's fourth overall.