Philippe Gilbert spent his birthday in the breakaway and got rewarded at the finish with the red bib for most aggressive rider of the stage.
On the first uphill test of the Tour de France, which came much earlier this year than in the past, Dan Martin powered to an impressive second place, which saw the Irishman jump 12 positions in the overall standings. Dan, who accelerated on the 20% ramps leading to the finish, dropped defending champion Chris Froome (Team Sky) and Richie Porte (BMC), arriving just a handful of seconds behind stage 5 winner Fabio Aru (Astana).
Long before the peloton hit the base of the 5.9km-long climb – one of the crucial tests of this edition – Team Sky pilled up the pressure, reducing the bunch and pouring lead into the legs of many riders. This didn't seem to affect Dan, who was at all times well-positioned in the upper echelon of the peloton and even launched a short attack to test the waters.
A selection was made, only a few contenders reacting to that move, before Martin went one more time and distanced everybody else, to claim Ireland's best result in three decades on a summit finish at the Tour de France, a result which strengthened the 30-year-old's credentials for a strong overall result by the time the race will arrive in Paris.
"Tough day out there, I felt the heat on the final climb and at times you had the impression you were glued to the road. Fabio was strong, so congrats to him, but despite coming second, I am satisfied. I'm very confident, as I really enjoy racing here and don't feel any pressure whatsoever."
The team is on a roll, we are the best squad in the world, which you can see by taking a look over the victories and list of results since the start of the season
"Of course, it's still early and a lot can happen in the Tour, but so far I'm happy of how things went", said Dan, who nabbed his second podium in the space of three days, after the one in Longwy, which catapulted him to fourth place in the general classification, only 25 seconds behind the leader.
Martin wasn't the only Quick-Step Floors rider in the spotlight on Wednesday. Philippe Gilbert turned 35 and decided to spend the day in the breakaway, attacking from kilometer zero together with seven other riders and building a maximum gap of 3:30. The Belgian traded turns at the front of the group, ensuring the eight stayed in the lead as much as possible, before launching an attack with 13 kilometers remaining, to which only Jan Bakelants (AG2R) could respond.
The Ronde van Vlaanderen reigning champion lead the way onto the Planche des Belles Filles, his resilience and strong effort helping the duo stay clear until the final four kilometers, when the peloton swept past them. His ride on stage 5 brought a trip to the podium at the end of the day, where Philippe was rewarded with the most aggressive rider red bib, which he'll display during Thursday's stage to Troyes.
For Philippe, it was the second time in his career that he got in possession of the most combative prize in a Tour de France stage, and came 12 years since the first, which he received at his debut in the race: "The breakaway comprised many strong and experienced riders, so I guess that's why the bunch didn't give us too much space. Still, we worked together very well and pushed the peloton really hard. It's nice to be on the podium here again and overall I can say it was a beautiful way to celebrate my birthday. I'm convinced there will be other opportunities in the upcoming stages, so I'm ready to try again."
Photo credit: ©Tim De Waele