One of the travesties of the 2017 Tour de France (besides the lack of GC battle in an otherwise tight fight for yellow) is that De Gendt has not only failed to win a stage – he’s only been awarded one of the 18 combativity awards to date.
That gong came in Stage 14 on the day Australia’s Michael Matthews notched the first of his two stage wins in Revel. It was also the second day in three that De Gendt had spent 170km out in a break – although on that occasion the “Prix Antargas” was awarded to Steve Cummings after the British rouleur was the last man standing before Romain Bardet took the win in Peyragudes.
After a quiet start to the race – on Andre Greipel duty, the Lotto Soudel domestique only went on the offensive twice in the opening week of the Tour – De Gendt really burst into life on the second weekend of the race with successive breaks ahead of the first rest day.
He’s been pretty much a feature ever since – as much part of the breakaway furniture as Raymond Poulidor is a podium ornament.
It’s not as if this is a recent development: after all, the 30-year-old is best known for his breakaway victories atop the Stelvio (in the 2011 Giro d’Italia) and Mont Ventoux in last year’s Tour. We can probably expect him topping the podium on the Angliru in the Vuelta sometime soon.
Prior to Friday’s longest stage in the Tour, French newspaper L’Equipe ran a little feature on De Gendt claiming he had notched a staggering 862km riding in front of the peloton – accounting for more than quarter of the entire race.
With De Gendt present once again, it’s no surprise even the most statistical-oriented fans were scratching their heads – so it’s lucky that De Gendt was on hand to help them out with their tallies.
De Gendt is clearly proud of his achievements – although it’s not as if he keeps a note of it or anything…
Ah. Well, what that does show is that either De Gendt has overestimated his time out ahead – or L’Equipe had severely undercut the Belgian’s swashbucklitude. Even before Stage 19, De Gendt – by his reckoning – had racked up over a thousand of breakaway clicks.
The actual numbers seem to be somewhere in between – not that it really matters.
One of the best things about De Gendt’s ability to take down more breakaway kilometres than Jan Ullrich has had hot dinners, is that he’s so very unassuming and borderline bashful about it (detailed kilometre-diary aside).
Take Thursday’s Stage 18 to the Col d’Izoard for example. Prior to the second of back-to-back Alpine schleps, De Gendt suggested that he may look to take things a bit easy…
Of course, De Gendt was having nothing of it. He doesn’t take breaks from breaks in Grand Tours. Instead, he rode ahead of the race for 160km before being caught on the Izoard.
You see, with 58 KOM points still available, De Gendt could have moved within 10pts of Warren Barguil atop the polka dot jersey standings – and who knows what fate may have befallen the Frenchman on the rocky road to Paris.
It was a sign of De Gendt’s class that he took time out to congratulate Barguil on his now-assured polka dot jersey as the main pack swallowed him up and spat him out the back.
It was perhaps telling that shortly after he shook the hand of the man most renowned for breaking away, that Barguil did just that – and never looked back as he rode into the record books by winning atop the Izoard.
De Gendt, of course, was happy to congratulate his rival later on in the day – while, no doubt, plotting his next move.
His next move was indeed the 190km he notched on Friday en route to Salon-de-Provence – and while De Gendt didn’t have the legs to contest for the win, it was his pulling on the front of the 20-man break that forced the selection of the leading nine-man group from which Edvald Boasson Hagen emerged victorious.
Of course, De Gendt didn’t give up after the Norwegian made his decisive move. He ended up sprinting for fifth place: his highest result so far in this year’s Tour.
The problem now for De Gendt is that there’s no way of breaking away in a time trial. So the Belgian will have to take a day off in Marseille on Saturday before – no doubt – being the man who attacks in Paris to lead the peloton onto the Champs-Elysees in Sunday’s final stage, where he should (if there's any justice) be crowned the Super-Combatif of the 2017 Tour.