Belgian Marc Wauters will wear the yellow jersey through his home region tomorrow after snatching the Tour de France lead with victory on the streets of Antwerp today.
The Rabobank rider’s win, along with the sprint time-bonuses he picked up along the way, was enough for him to take the leader’s jersey from Frenchman Christophe Moreau.
Wauters edged out Festina’s Arnaud Pretot and a chasing pack of 10 riders in a tightly-contested sprint at the end of the 218.5-kilometre stage which left Calais before crossing the border into Belgium.
Wauters, who is 12 seconds ahead of Stuart O’Grady in the overall rankings, will now wear the coveted yellow in tomorrow’s stage to Seraing, passing through his home province of Limbourg.
The 32-year-old paid tribute to the local supporters who packed the final kilometeres, desperate for a Belgian win on home soil.
He said: ‘‘I knew I couldn’t let them down. They were shouting and screaming because they knew I was a Belgian.
‘‘As a boy I used to watch the Tour de France every day and dream about wearing the yellow jersey.’’
He was ultimately rewarded for his decision to lead a break away from the peloton with around 30km to go.
Wauters was aided by compatriot and team-mate Erik Dekker in chasing down a pack of four riders - Jens Voigt, Matteo Frutti, Servais Knaven and Paul van Hyfte who had developed an advantage of one minute 26 seconds.
He said: ‘‘I have to thank Erik Dekker because he gave me a lot of support. It was a great effort by Erik.
‘‘At seven kilometres to go, Erik said you have to attack at two kilometres. But I thought ‘I cannot go any faster’ so I simply went as fast as I could.’’
As the Belgian duo led the attack on the leaders, drama developed behind them with more than 20 riders involved in a crash, including last year’s third-placed
Joseba Beloki, of ONCE, and David Millar, the sole Briton in the race, who also fell in the prologue.