Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) has left the Tour de France, bringing an end to his debut after eight stages and a week in the yellow jersey.
The Dutchman, who won at Mûr-de-Bretagne on stage 2, relinquished the overall lead on Saturday’s first outing in the mountains, and decided not to start stage 9.
His major season target has always been the mountain bike race at the Olympic Games later this summer and he will now turn his full focus to Tokyo.
Van der Poel was at the start in Cluses on Sunday morning, and was even kitted up, but soon confirmed he would not be racing.
“Unfortunately I will not start today. We decided with the team that it’s in my best interests to quit the race and focus on the Olympics,” he said.
“We knew it would be difficult for me. I have some other goals and due to the pandemic it was impossible for me to do the whole Tour and be on the top of my game for Tokyo. I had an amazing week and I’ll be back next year to go to Paris.”
This was Van der Poel’s Tour de France debut but also his Grand Tour debut, and he made it one to remember. He caused a splash when he and his teammates turned up to the teams presentation in special purple and amber kits in honour of his late grandfather, Raymond Poulidor, who finished on the Tour podium eight times.
Poulidor never won the Tour and never wore yellow, so there were emotional scenes when Van der Poel grabbed the jersey at Mûr-de-Bretagne. He’d had to bow to Julian Alaphilippe on the opening day but produced a vicious acceleration to sail clear at the top of the short climb.
Van der Poel was then an active presence in yellow, forming a key part of the Alpecin-Fenix lead-out train that delivered Tim Merlier to victory on stage 3, and Jasper Philipsen to podium finishes thereafter.
He even took the jersey up the road on stage 7, gaining more time on the GC contenders in a thrilling long-range 29-man breakaway. On Saturday, on the first day in the Alps, he was up front in a frantic start to the stage and survived the first category-1 climb, but dropped after that and finished more than 20 minutes down.
“It’s been an amazing three weeks for me and the team,” Van der Poel said. “We won two stages and had yellow for six days. It was my first Grand Tour and I think we can be really proud of that.”
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