Journalists, fans and members of the Tour de France peloton have struggled to find the words to sum up Wout van Aert this first week of the race, and will now also need to pass the thesaurus around after Tadej Pogačar’s gazumping of the rest of the field on stage 6.
After three runners-up placings, the eventual stage win on stage 4, then rescuing Jonas Vingegaard on the cobbles before pulling Tadej Pogačar to within an acceptable distance on stage 5, the yellow jersey who went on the offensive today in Belgium. Countless, breathless attacks were launched to wrench himself free, Geraint Thomas remarking afterwards on how “insane” it was that the Belgian was splitting the group on his own on the front.
But it was his younger teammate Tom Pidcock, who claimed an impressive fourth on the uphill finish, who was the most succinct in his analysis of the now former yellow jersey of this race.
“He’s playing with our balls isn’t he?” Pidcock said of Wout van Aert’s breakaway exploits.
“I don’t know what to say to be honest. He’s taking the piss isn’t he?”
Asked again a few minutes later by ITV, Pidcock repeated himself when asked if he had any messages for Wout van Aert: “Stop playing with our balls.”
“Although I don’t understand,” he continued, “because he goes up the road with three guys and he could have just waited once they were gone and they had two minutes and then he could have contested the final and kept the yellow…I don’t understand…it’s weird.”
Pidcock spoke with a smile on his face, shaking his head, tongue-in-cheek about his cyclocross rival’s talents. Last year Wout van Aert won on the Ventoux stage, the stage 20 time trial and then the Champs-Élysées. This year he seems determined to try, somehow, to go one better.
Van Aert was finally caught by the bunch with 10km to go and then dropped not long after. He would likely lose his yellow jersey on the Super Planche des Belles Filles on stage 7 tomorrow so instead seemed to choose to lose or retain it in a no guts no glory attack on the stage that ran through his home country.
He eventually crossed the line in 103rd place, 7-28 behind Pogačar, leading home the group with Fabio Jakobsen in second wheel (did he outsprint him? we didn’t see how they crossed the line), but clearly he hadn’t yet had enough of bossing the bunch for one day.