Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) took the Tour de France by the scruff of the neck on stage 2 with a thrilling or all-nothing ride that netted him both the stage win and the yellow jersey in dramatic fashion. And in a sign of both love and respect, he pointed to the sky as he crossed the line to remember his late grandfather and cycling legend Raymond Poulidor.
Coming into the stage, Van der Poel sat 18 seconds off Julian Alaphilippe’s (Deceuninck-QuickStep) race lead but the Alpecin-Fenix rider made the incredibly bold move of attacking on the first ascent of the Mûr-de-Bretagne in order to hunt down bonus seconds.
He was first to the top of the climb and picked up eight seconds for his troubles but while that effort alone would have drained most riders, the Dutchman had the guile and strength to attack again on the final climb with just over 1km remaining.
With both the stage and yellow on the line, Van der Poel held off a late charge from last year’s winner Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) and Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) to win by six seconds. With Alaphilippe finishing fifth on the stage and in a group that crossed the line eight seconds down, Van der Poel gained enough time to catapult him into the yellow jersey, in what is his first Tour de France.
"I don’t know what to say," Van de Poel said before the weight of his historic achievement began to sink in. "I gambled a little bit and I played everything I got the first time already. I knew I had to get bonus seconds if I wanted the yellow jersey, and I knew it was the last chance to get the yellow jersey. It's incredible.”
Asked who he thought of at the finish, a tearful Van der Poel replied, "my granddad, of course", as he remembered the late Poulidor, who Van der Poel and his team had honoured at the Tour’s team presentation on Saturday and again on stage 1 with a special-edition jersey.
After gathering himself and collecting the maillot jaune, Van der Poel spoke about his grandfather. "Imagine if he was here how proud he would have been. Unfortunately, he isn't here anymore to see."
Van der Poel now leads the race from Alaphilippe by eight seconds with Pogačar in third.
“You can’t even plan something like this. I just launched my first attack with one lap to go and no one followed. I kept on going until I had the bonus seconds and that was my only and last chance to grab the yellow jersey. To finish it like this is incredible.
"The last 500 metres were really painful - I knew I had to keep on going as fast as I could just to get the gap. I didn't know until five minutes after the finish line that I have the yellow jersey. It's unbelievable."
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Daniel Benson is the Editor in Chief at both Cyclingnews.com and BikePerfect.com. Based in the UK, he has worked within cycling for almost 15 years, and he joined the Cyclingnews team in 2008 as the site's first UK-based Managing Editor. In that time, he has reported on over a dozen editions of the Tour de France, several World Championships, the Tour Down Under, Spring Classics, and the London 2012 Olympic Games. With the help of the excellent editorial team, he runs the coverage on Cyclingnews and has interviewed leading figures in the sport including UCI Presidents and Tour de France winners.
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