Wout van Aert proved once again why he is one of the favourites to win the green jersey at this year’s Tour de France when the Jumbo-Visma rider pounced at the last to deny Ethan Hayter a fifth win of 2022 in the opening stage of the Critérium du Dauphiné.
On what was a tough 191.8-kilometre stage from La Voulte-sur-Rhône to Beauchastel, a number of the pure sprinters were dropped on the final climb, unable to then regain contact before the anticipated sprint finish due largely to the pace being set by south London rider Hayter’s Ineos Grenadiers team-mates.
Having been guided towards the head of the field by Michal Kwiatkowski, Hayter was given a textbook lead-out with two-time world time trial champion Filippo Ganna pulling hard on the front. Unfortunately for Hayter, though, Belgian national champion Van Aert positioned himself perfectly at fourth wheel before opening up his sprint around 150 metres from the line. Van Aert, who is targeting the points jersey at next month’s Tour de France, was able to hold off Hayter, while Sean Quinn (EF Education-EasyPost) took third.
“A lot of teams were interested in dropping a few sprinters,” said Van Aert. “I could hang on and felt good for the sprint. It was really nice. On the climbs I felt quite comfortable, and a hard stage suits me when it’s like this but then in the sprint there were guys like Hayter, and you have to beat them. He’s doing great this season, so it was tough to pass him, but in the end it happened so I’m happy.
Van Aert later said he would try to defend the leader’s yellow jersey, or keep it in the team that includes Primoz Roglic. The latter is also using the Critérium du Dauphiné as a warm-up race to next month’s Tour de France. “Why not? We’re here with a strong team,” said Van Aert.
“I think that the coming stages suit me quite well so I’ll try and defend the lead if that’s possible. Then at the weekend I can hopefully hand it over to Primoz. But there are a lot of tough stages coming up first.”
The Critérium du Dauphiné continues on Monday with the 169.8km second stage from Saint-Péray to Brives-Charensac and concludes next Sunday.