On June 27, Mathieu van der Poel won Stage 2 with a blistering ride over the double ascent at Mur-de-Bretagne, France, to take the yellow jersey in mesmerising style. Slovenians Tadej Pogacar and Primoz Roglic led the chase six seconds down. Julian Alaphilippe, the winner of Stage 1, could only manage the fifth place and conceded the race lead to the Dutch debutant after another dramatic day at the Tour de France.
When Mathieu van der Poel attacked the first of two deciding ascents of the Cote de Menehiez at Mur-de-Bretagne, it looked like he had gone too early. But the Dutchman snared the bonus seconds over the summit, which gave him a chance of taking the yellow jersey the second time around – and the 26-year-old Tour debutant delivered in style.
Countering an attack from Nairo Quintana inside the final kilometre, Alpecin-Fenix’s Van der Poel roared clear of his rivals to win Stage 2 with a gap of six seconds over a deluxe chasing trio of Tadej Pogacar (UAE Team Emirates), Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma) and Wilco Kelderman (Bora-Hansgrohe).
It was an emotional win for Van der Poel on the second day of his Tour de France career. The 26-year-old having stuttered to 20th place on Saturday’s opening stage. While his Alpecin-Fenix team wore a special purple and amber kit, paying homage to his late grandfather, the former cyclist Raymond Poulidor.
On crossing the finish line after securing his first Tour stage win, Van der Poel pointed to the sky as he remembered the man called “PouPou” – who famously never wore the yellow jersey during his long and otherwise illustrious career.
“I have no words. I really don’t know what to say,” a stunned Van der Poel said after the stage. “I gambled a little bit. I went on the first climb because I knew I needed the bonus seconds if I wanted the jersey. It was my last chance to get it.”
Van der Poel now leads Alaphilippe by eight seconds in the general classification, with defending champion Pogacar third at 13 seconds, one second ahead of fellow Slovenian Roglic.
A split in the pack saw Geraint Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers) come home 23 seconds down on the stage winner, the Welshman dropping ten spots to 20th on GC as a result. Thomas is now 41 seconds in arrears, with Ecuador’s Richard Carapaz, 31 seconds down, the best-placed rider from the Ineos team who had set the tempo on the peloton going onto the final climb.
After a series of six attacks, the Dutch debutant eventually joined forces with Frenchman Jeremy Cabot (Team TotalEnergies) as the two managed to bridge over to the leaders.
With the showers coming and going, it was a huge relief not to see a repeat of the huge pile-ups which marred the closing hour of Saturday’s opening stage. And like Alaphilippe one day earlier, Van der Poel rose to the challenge to put on a spectacle worthy of the world’s biggest bike race.
Van der Poel zipped clear with 17km remaining on the first ascent of the so-called Mur, powering clear on the 2km ramp with its average gradient of 6.9% to open a small gap that never looked like it would stick.
With Slovenians Pogacar and Roglic leading the chase behind with the man in yellow, Alaphilippe, Van der Poel sat up near the summit once he was assured of the eight bonus seconds at the bonus sprint. Pog and Rog snaffled up the remaining bonus seconds as a pack of around 60 riders reformed on the loop around to the foot of the same climb.
Alaphilippe may have retained the yellow jersey, had he not conceded eight seconds over the line and had he managed to pick up some bonuses of himself. But the Frenchman was unable to match the two strongest riders from last year’s Tour as Pogacar and Roglic completed the top three after a thrilling finale.
With two more days of racing left in Brittany, the focus should shift to the sprinters who will battle it out in Stages 3 and 4 ahead of Wednesday’s time trial, where Van der Poel expects to lose the yellow jersey. The very fact that the Dutchman is in yellow in the first place is a credit to his strength in character and supreme all-around force on a bike. Alaphilippe’s opening day victory was always going to take some beating – but Van der Poel somehow managed to do just that. What a duo.
Eurosport and GCN expert Sir Bradley Wiggins reacting to Mathieu van der Poel’s stage win today “What a rider, we sat here today more in awe of him than Julian Alaphilippe. We’ve been blessed these last two days with two dominant displays by these two riders. There could only be one winner today. It really humanised him, he’s a very human rider anyway, he shows his emotion, he’s not frightened of showing respect to the people that have gone before him. It all stems from his grandfather [Raymond Poulidor] and of course his father as well.”
“It’s been an amazing first weekend of the Tour de France. He is riding in honour of his grandfather who is a huge cultural figure in France. He’s just warmed the hearts of everyone in the world of cycling,” he added.
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