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Stage winner Belgium's Wout Van Aert, wearing the best sprinter's green jersey, celebrates on the podium after the 186.5-km eighth stage of the Tour de France between Dole in France and Lausanne in Switzerland on Saturday. Image Credit: AP

Lausanne: Belgian Wout van Aert has been on form in the first week of the Tour de France winning two stages including Saturday’s sprint finale in Lausanne and finishing second three times.

The 27-year-old has built up a seemingly unassailable lead in the sprints point race.

“It’s a mythical thing, but I believe I deserve it,” the Jumbo-Visma rider after pulling on his first overall leader’s jersey this week.

He then proceeded to lead a long range breakaway though his homeland, parading the yellow, before giving it up to concentrate on the green.

“I wanted to give my fans something to remember,” he said.

Standout rider

Van Aert is the runaway leader for the green sprint points jersey and alongside Slovenian two-time defending champion Tadej Pogacar, who is now wearing the leader’s yellow jersey, has been the standout rider of the 2022 Tour.

Van Aert joined road cycling late after taking three consecutive world championships titles at cyclo-cross from 2016 to 2018.

“When I was young I didn’t much think about road racing, bunch sprints were boring for me,” he admitted after Saturday’s impressive win ahead of Michael Matthews and Pogacar.

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UAE Team Emirates' Tadej Pogacar (centre), wearing the overall leader's yellow jersey and followed by Jumbo-Visma team's Belgian rider Wout Van Aert (left), wearing the sprinter's green jersey, during the eighth stage. Image Credit: AFP

“I only started to like sprints when I got into the mix myself.”

He joined Jumbo-Visma in 2018 and has been a key man ever since winning stages on all four Tour de France he has taken part in.

Never loses heart

Disaster struck the following year when he badly injured his thigh at a Tour’s time-trial, but Van Aert has deep willpower.

“There’s always another day,” he insisted after coming second three times on the first three stages on this Tour in Denmark.

“When you come second there is a reason.

“It’s never easy to win a bike race, and it’s never easy to win a Tour de France stage and never will be,” he said on Saturday.

“I have done four Tour de France now, and have always managed to get a win at least a stage.”

He was on fire on the 2021 Tour too, winning three iconic stages.

Launching a late attack

First he triumphed on the summit finish on the lunar upper reaches of Mont Ventoux, then took a second on the time-trial through the Bordeaux vineyards and finally on the Champs Elysees cobbles of stage 21, where he denied British great Mark Cavendish a record 35th stage win.

In 2022, he has taken things a step up, claiming the yellow jersey despite three second places in Denmark before taking his first stage win of the 2022 Tour at Calais.

Launching a late attack on a climb from Dunkirk to Calais he powered over the final 8km at breathtaking speed, taking an iconic triumph for a solo rider, with the yellow jersey on his back.

“The jersey gave me wings,” he explained, earning the praise of Pogacar.

“He just blew us all away,” said the Slovenian.