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Bakelants gains new appreciation for yellow over 24 hours

CALVI, France (VN) — Jan Bakelants (RadioShack-Leopard) concluded his first 24 hours in the Tour de France’s yellow jersey with a greater appreciation of its meaning.

“The moment when I crossed the finish line yesterday was the best,” the 27-year-old Belgian said a day after roaring to a surprising stage win in Ajaccio.

Bakelants survived from a late escape yesterday and held off the speeding peloton on Corsica’s northern coast. Today, he was able to better understand his winning effort.

“I thought about the win again today. Contrary to yesterday, I was in the bunch that was yesterday behind me the day before. Now, I see how strong I was to be able to keep off the group. It was the same situation. I felt how hard the bunch went today; I’m even more amazed about what I did yesterday.”

Bakelants is a nervous type. Three years ago, in 2010, he was in position to take the Giro d’Italia’s pink jersey but crashed due to a mixture of nerves and wet roads. He would have another nervous day today in “the stage of 10,000 turns.” The costal run was beautiful, but anything but straight, and required Bakelants’ maximum attention if he was to finish the day still in yellow.

“It was really nervous, but with beautiful scenery,” he added. “It really was not easy for me.”

As if lined out for GC leader Andy Schleck, RadioShack rode on the front for Bakelants. The ride was something he would have never dreamt of ahead of the race, sitting at the back of the team’s train and riding high above the Mediterranean Sea.

Once the peloton made it over the final of four climbs, the Cat. 2 Col de Marsolino, Bakelants’ day became a bit easier. He called off his teammates and let the sprinters’ teams, such as Cannondale and Orica-GreenEdge, control the pace.

In those moments, he gained an appreciation of his achievement yesterday — becoming the first Belgian to wear yellow since Philippe Gilbert in 2011 and holding off the speeding pack.

In Calvi, Bakelants climbed back on the podium to begin another 24 hours, maybe his last, in the famous maillot jaune.

As the sun sets on the island, it is also setting on his yellow days. The race’s 196 riders flew to Nice on France’s mainland tonight ahead of the team time trial tomorrow. With only a one-second advantage, and teams like Orica, Sky, and Garmin-Sharp breathing down his neck, Bakelants’ run appears at its end.

“It’s going to be hard tomorrow,” he said. “I’ll probably lose the jersey, but I’ll think of the nice moments, the nice 48 hours.”