• Thomas De Gendt takes his prize. (Getty)Source: Getty
Thomas De Gendt only had to finish the final stage of the Vuelta a España to secure the blue polka dot jersey in a Grand Tour for the first time.
Cycling Central

17 Sep 2018 - 7:31 AM  UPDATED 17 Sep 2018 - 7:37 AM

The Lotto Soudal hard man and breakaway specialist on Saturday (Stage 20) secured the jersey and become only the eighth Belgian rider to claim the classification in a Grand Tour.

“I’m very proud of this jersey. It’s a jersey I’ve fought for in several other Grand Tours, so I’m really happy I finally can take this one home," De Gendt said. "As it was really hard to win a stage, I started focusing on the KOM classification from the thirteenth stage onwards."

De Gendt, who amassed 95 classification points, finished ahead of Trek-Segafredo's Bauke Mollema (83) and Cofidis's Luis Ángel Maté (64).

He was the recipient of some fortune with Maté falling ill late in the Tour after appearing to have a lock on the jersey, before seeing off a surging Mollema on the penultimate day of racing.

"Initially, the polka dot jersey wasn’t a goal as Maté was also very strong. It was very hard to deny him any points at the beginning, so I had to wait until later in the race, on moments where there were more points to earn," De Gendt said.

"From the moment Maté got ill, I had to make sure to attack, be in the break of the day and collect as many points as possible. In the seventeenth stage, I was the first to reach the top of five climbs and earned 25 points. Looking back on it, it was a decisive stage for my KOM victory."

De Gendt reflected on the moments which gave him and Lotto Soudal a reward for their efforts over the 21 days, which included a stirring breakaway victory by team-mate Jelle Wallays on Stage 18.

"I joined the breakaway in seven stages. And if I wasn’t part of the break, I tried to escape the bunch at the beginning of the stage and take some points at the first climb," he said.

His final placing was 67th overall, two hours 22 minutes behind the winner Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) but the hunt for a classification jersey often involves a combination of cunning and brute strength, two of De Gendt's best attributes.

"Though I’m very good at choosing the right breakaway, it was definitely not easy to get in the break each time. But most of the time, you’re able to go clear if you really want to. And of course, when you’re finally part of the breakaway, you still have to be capable of reaching the summit as first.

"Luckily, my legs felt very strong, especially in the final two weeks. I wasn’t at my best in the first week, but after the rest day, it kept going better and I gave my all to be part of the following breakaways."

He also gave credit to Mollema, who became his toughest rival and pushed him to the limit in the latter stages of the race.

“It was a thrilling battle for the jersey until the penultimate stage. [Bauke] Mollema was in the break of the two final stages as well, so I had to make sure to be ahead of him at every single KOM-climb.

"We’ve [Lotto Soudal] had three very good weeks. The atmosphere in the team was really nice and the stage win of Jelle took away a lot of pressure. The polka dot jersey is, of course, a really nice reward as well and I think we can definitely be proud of our Vuelta."

Yates the Vuelta champion as Viviani storms Madrid finale
Simon Yates has won his first Grand Tour title after a largely ceremonial ride into Madrid in the final stage of the Vuelta a España.