Van der Poel nabs yellow jersey in emotional tribute to grandfather Poulidor

Dutch rider goes one better than his grandfather, nicknamed ‘The Eternal Second’

 Stage winner   Mathieu van der Poel points to the sky as he crosses the finish line at the end of the second  stage of the  Tour de France  between Perros-Guirrec and Mur de Bretagne Guerledan. Photograph: Stephane Mahe/AFP via Getty Images

Stage winner Mathieu van der Poel points to the sky as he crosses the finish line at the end of the second stage of the Tour de France between Perros-Guirrec and Mur de Bretagne Guerledan. Photograph: Stephane Mahe/AFP via Getty Images

 

One day after he unsuccessfully tried to win the first stage of the Tour de France as a tribute to his grandfather, Mathieu van der Poel scooped victory with an impressive surge on the climb of the Mur de Bretagne.

The Dutch Alpecin-Fenix rider launched his move with 700 metres to go and immediately got a gap, reaching the line six seconds ahead of last year’s Tour winner Tadej Pogacar (UAE Team Emirates), the 2020 runner-up Primoz Roglic (Jumbo) and Wilco Kelderman (Bora-hansgrohe).

Van der Poel had earlier surged on the first of two ascents of the finishing climb, seeking the bonus seconds at the summit. He scooped eight seconds there, crossing the line just ahead of Pogacar, Roglic and race leader Julien Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-QuickStep), then made sure of the yellow jersey with his dominant final move.

“I have no words,” he said at first, the emotions overcoming him. “I gambled a little bit. I played everything I got the first time [up the climb] already because I knew I needed the bonus seconds if I wanted the jersey. It was also my last chance to get the yellow jersey [in this Tour]. It is incredible.”

Asked who he was thinking of crossing the line, he answered, “my grandad, of course,” and then broke down in tears.

Van der Poel’s grandfather passed away in 2019, and was one of the most famous riders in the history of cycling. Raymond Poulidor finished on the podium eight times in the Tour, including placing second overall on three occasions, but the Frenchman – nicknamed ‘The Eternal Second’ – never wore the yellow jersey.

Van der Poel and his team wore specially-designed jerseys reminiscent of Poulidor’s past squad Mercier on Saturday’s opening stage, but his dream of taking yellow for his grandfather didn’t pan out as he placed only 20th: 24 hours later, and back in the standard team jersey, he pulled the accomplishment off.

The stage was always destined to come down to the final climb, a three-kilometre ascent where Dan Martin triumphed in 2018, but would place 40th this time around.

Mathieu van der Poel of the Netherlands celebrates after crossing the finish line at the end of the second stage of the Tour de France between Perros-Guirrec and Mur de Bretagne Guerledan. Photograph: Daniel Cole/AFP via Getty Images
Mathieu van der Poel of the Netherlands celebrates after crossing the finish line at the end of the second stage of the Tour de France between Perros-Guirrec and Mur de Bretagne Guerledan. Photograph: Daniel Cole/AFP via Getty Images

Still, despite the expectations that the winner would come from the main bunch, several riders tried to rip up that script. Anthony Perez (Cofidis), Edward Theuns (Trek-Segafredo), Simon Clarke (Qhubeka-Nexthash), Jonas Koch (Intermarché-Wanty Gobert), Ide Schelling (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Jérémy Cabot (TotalEnergies) went clear in the early part of the stage, building a maximum lead of just over four minutes. The most persistent of the six, Theuns, was reeled in with 18 kilometres left.

Van der Poel then surged to take the time bonus the first time up the Mur de Bretagne, repeating his all-out acceleration on the final ascent to win the stage. With the bonuses factored into the calculation, he ended the day eight seconds clear of Alaphilippe and a further five seconds in front of Pogacar. Roglic is one second behind the latter in fourth, while the rest of the field are at least 24 seconds in arrears.

These include the Ineos-Grenadiers duo of Richard Carapaz and 2018 Tour winner Geraint Thomas. Carapaz was 12th on the stage, losing eight seconds to Van der Poel, while Thomas was a full 23 seconds back and will be disappointed with his showing. He will try to fight back on Wednesday’s fifth stage, a flat 27.2 kilometre time-trial, but is already almost half a minute behind Pogacar and Roglic, who can both ride well against the watch.

Van der Poel may or may not hold onto yellow until then, but is elated with what he achieved on Sunday. The 26-year-old is riding his first Tour and could hardly have made a better debut. “You can’t even plan something like this,” he said, clad in the Maillot Jaune his grandfather had tried so hard to wear. “I just launched my first attack here with one lap to go and no one followed. I kept on going until I had those bonus seconds. I knew it was my only and my last chance in the Tour, I think, to grab the yellow jersey. To finish it off like this is incredible.

“The last 500 metres were really painful, but 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 had the yellow jersey. Like I said, it is unbelievable.”

Taking the jersey in tribute to Poulidor is a huge part of his satisfaction. “[It means] a lot. Just imagine if he was here, how proud he would have been.”

The Tour continues on Monday with a rolling 182.9 kilometre race to Pontivy which is expected to end in a bunch sprint. Van der Poel will savour the day in yellow and while he is Dutch, his maternal family links will guarantee French support too.

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