Van Avermaet wins Stage 5 to take 'best jersey in world'

Van Avermaet, 31, attacked fellow Belgian Thomas De Gendt 17.4km from the end of the 216km stage from Limoges to Le Lioran to also rip the yellow jersey from Slovak Peter Sagan. "It's the best jersey in the world," beamed Van Avermaet.

Greg Van Avermaet of Belgium riding for BMC Racing Team celebrates as he wins stage five of the 2016 Le Tour de France on Wednesday.   -  Getty Images

Greg Van Avermaet rode into the "best jersey in the world", the coveted race leader's yellow jersey as he won Wednesday's fifth stage of the Tour de France. It was a second stage win for the cobbled classics specialist who also won stage 13 last year.

And it continued a great year for Van Avermaet, who won Tirreno-Adriatico and Het Nieuwsblad before breaking his collarbone at the Tour of Flanders in April and missing the rest of the cobbled classics season. "It's been a good season for me already, I've won some nice races," said Van Avermaet.

"I crashed at Flanders, which wasn't good, but I'm here in good shape and a Tour stage win: it's perfect!"

Van Avermaet, 31, attacked fellow Belgian Thomas De Gendt 17.4km from the end of the 216km stage from Limoges to Le Lioran to also rip the yellow jersey from Slovak Peter Sagan. "It's the best jersey in the world," beamed Van Avermaet.

"It's special for me, it's my first time and maybe my last!

"I'll enjoy the moment and that's important. It's the best moment in my career. "Winning a stage is something but now taking the yellow jersey and spending all day in yellow tomorrow -- it's great!"

He finished 2min 34sec ahead of fellow breakaway companion De Gendt with Polish Tinkoff rider Rafal Majka in third, 5:04 back.

The overall favourites rolled in just three seconds behind Majka after an attack from the peloton by Frenchman Romain Bardet 3km from home sparked some action. Two time former winner Alberto Contador lost more time, 33 seconds to other favourites, as he continues to recover from injuries sustained in crashes on the first two days.

He's now 1:21 behind reigning champion Chris Froome and chief rival Nairo Quintana, who came over the line safely together and sit fifth and seventh overall respectively at 5:17.

Van Avermaet now leads Frenchman Julian Alaphilippe by 5:11 with Alejandro Valverde of Spain two seconds further back.

'Respect the race'

Nine riders broke away 20km into the stage but eventually three of those went clear with the other six forming a chase group. De Gendt, Van Avermaet and Andriy Grivko of Ukraine built up a lead of more than 2min 30sec to the six pursuers and over 15 minutes to the unrushed peloton.

Finally, in the last 50km, Froome's Team Sky and Quintana's Movistar took up the peloton pace-setting "to respect the race" Movistar sports director Jose Luis Arrieta told France Television.

On the ascent up the first category two climb, the 5.4km long, 8.1% average gradient Pas de Peyrol, Grivko was dropped by the two Belgians while two of the six chasers also cracked.

That was also where Sagan, who would finish more than 23 minutes after Van Avermaet, gave up his grip on the race leader's yellow jersey as he was shelled out the back of the peloton — although he keeps the green points jersey.

Vincenzo Nibali, the 2014 winner and Giro d'Italia champion, also found himself in difficulty and finished more than 13min down. By the top of that climb, with still 30km to ride, the peloton -- now less than 30-strong -- had closed to under 7min behind the lead duo.

When Van Avermaet attacked, he left De Gendt for dead, going after stage glory and the yellow jersey as well, although his compatriot had already done enough to take the king of the mountains jersey. Having worked hard on the first second category climb, Movistar stopped pushing at the front of the peloton and Sky set a more relaxed tempo on the 4.4km, 7.9% average Col du Perthus.

But by now, Van Avermaet's victory was assured as the peloton's gap hovered around the 6min mark without showing much desire to chase down the Belgian.

Bardet did create some late excitement but the final ramp up to the finish was neither steep, nor long enough to create gaps amongst the favourites, except for Contador.