Shortened by six kilometres because the dramatic Ventoux mistral was deemed too dangerous atop the summit, the stage had already delivered memorable moments prior to the unprecedented crash that will be one of the most memorable moments of the 2016 Tour de France.
De Gendt had already ridden clear of the scene where the crash would happen and went on to win the stage. It was his first stage win at the Tour de France, and the second Grand Tour victory of his career.
"My stage win at the Stelvio (in 2012) was more emotional because it was the first one and it took me to the final podium of the Giro," de Gendt said.
"But this is the Tour. It's the biggest race of the year. For my career it's the biggest victory. Now only a stage victory at the Vuelta is missing."
Last night's win was made all the sweeter by the work of team-mate Andre Griepel.
"At the bottom of the climb Greipel attacked because the plan was to make the others work. During the stage, he brought me bottles, gave me advice and did most of the pulling. Normally I do that for him. It says how much of a great guy he is,” de Gendt said.
"It was an honour to have a great cyclist like him supporting me. On the Ventoux I remained in front with only two others quite soon. I had decided to keep my own pace. I got distanced, but I didn’t panic and stayed in my rhythm. I managed to get back in front.
“At the end it was difficult to know how far it was 'till the finish because of the many spectators along the side of the road. I was surprised when we entered the last kilometre. Serge and I feared that Navarro would still get back, but he didn’t.”
As it happened
De Gendt and his breakaway companion Serge Pauwels (Dimension Data) traded blows all the way up Ventoux to the new finish at Chalet Reynard. The Lotto-Soudal rider proved too strong for his fellow Belgian while Daniel Navarro (Cofidis) trailed the pair across the line for third.
De Gendt, Navarro, Pauwels and Greipel were part of an early 14 rider breakaway established not long after the flag drop and included the likes of Sep Vanmarcke (Lotto-Jumbo), Stef Clement (IAM), Daniel Teklehaimanot (Dimension Data), Paul Voss (Bora), Bryan Coquard and Sylvain Chavanel (Direct Energie), and Julian Alaphilippe and Iljo Keisse (Etixx-Quick Step), Dani Navarro and Cyril Lemoine (Cofidis).
The leading group had over 18 minutes on the peloton with 61km to go but this plummeted once Etixx-QuickStep and Trek Segafredo drove the front in the crosswinds towards Ventoux which caused a split in the main bunch.
The first peloton kept coming closer to the leaders and with 33km to go the time gap was seven minutes and 48 seconds. After a crash in the peloton the pace slowed down so the riders involved could come back, that way the gap got bigger again.
Just before the foot of the Mont Ventoux Greipel accelerated. He stayed ahead of the others for a short while. The German champion had already done a lot of work during the day for his team-mate de Gendt. Once the climb really started de Gent set the pace, one by one the others got dropped.
De Gendt turned out to be one of the strongest riders, together with Navarro and Pauwels. They entered the final kilometre together. The two Belgians left Navarro behind with a few hundred metres to go, then De Gendt beat his fellow countryman at the finish.
De Gendt takes back the lead in the King of the Mountains
De Gendt was also awarded the combativity prize today and he has the polka dot jersey around his shoulders again. De Gendt, who conquered the maximum points at the finish and on two smaller climbs during the stage, now has nine points more than Thibaut Pinot.
De Gendt’s victory is the first for Lotto Soudal at this year’s Tour de France.
“Up till now we hadn’t won yet with the team at this Tour. Maybe another stage win will follow now, there are still a few chances for André," said de Gendt.
“At the finish the KOM points were doubled and I own the polka dot jersey again. I still think it is very difficult for someone other than a GC rider to take the jersey home. I only have a small lead. I am keen on joining more breakaways and then we’ll see where it ends.
“Tonight we will definitely have a drink, but modestly, because we are all thinking of Stig Broeckx,” said de Gendt referring to his team-mate who is in a coma after an incident with a motorbike.
“We all were a bracelet with the text ‘Fight for Stig’ and we keep on fighting, with him and his family. We talk about Stig a lot and he’s always on our minds. I dedicate this victory to him.”