AJACCIO, Corsica — Jan Bakelants pulled away close to the finish line to win Sunday's second stage of the Tour de France and take the race leader's yellow jersey for the first time in his injury-plagued career.
The 27-year-old Belgian made his move with a few hundred meters remaining and did enough to withstand a late charge from Slovak sprinter Peter Sagan for the biggest achievement of a frustrating career in which he turned professional at age 23.
"It's difficult to believe what happened today, it's fantastic," said Bakelants, who had a knee operation earlier this year. "Today it may be the first and last time I ever wear the yellow jersey."
He won in 3 hours, 43 minutes, 11 seconds, with Sagan and third-place finisher Michal Kwiatkowski one second behind him.
The 97-mile trek started from Bastia and, after four moderate climbs, finished in Ajaccio where Napoleon Bonaparte was born in 1769.
With the finish in sight, Bakelants found himself with five other riders and instinct told him that he may never get a better chance to make a name for himself.
"I felt the others weren't going at 100 percent so I stayed back, but then I saw the peloton were closing in on me," the RadioShack rider said. "With 500 meters to go I had a look and I saw that I was still 100 meters clear of the peloton. I gave everything I had and I made it by one second. But that doesn't matter, I have the yellow jersey."
It has been a difficult career for Bakelants so far.
"I had a lot of bad luck. I've had two operations. I fell at the Tour of Lombardy in 2010, I fractured my right knee and left elbow. You know, things like that take time to heal," he said. "This year I had bad luck as well, an operation on my right leg. I worked very hard to come back."
Prior to Sunday, his proudest achievement was off the bike — namely a bachelor's degree in bioscience engineering from the university of Leuven in Belgium.
"I think there's more in life than just cycling, But at the moment cycling's in first place." he said. "I think it's going to be a short night tonight, I don't think I'll sleep much.
"My goal was to win a stage but I didn't think it would happen so fast."