Tour de France 2021 - Debutant Mathieu van der Poel rides into yellow with stunning Stage 2 performance
Mathieu van der Poel won Stage 2 with a blistering ride over the double-ascent at Mur-de-Bretagne to take the yellow jersey in mesmerising style. Slovenians Tadej Pogacar and Primoz Roglic led the chase six seconds down but Julian Alaphilippe could only manage fifth place and conceded the race lead to the Dutch debutant after another dramatic day on the Tour de France.
‘The cream will rise to the top!’ - Van der Poel takes yellow with blistering ride
When Mathieu van der Poel attacked on 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 round – 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).
The French race leader Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-QuickStep) led a chasing group home a further two seconds back to take fifth place one day after his superb win in the opening stage at Landerneau. By missing out on the bonus seconds over both passages of the summit, the world champion conceded his yellow jersey to his Dutch rival. Alaphilippe will now start Monday’s third stage not in his rainbow bands but in the green jersey after he consolidated his lead in the points classification amid all the activity.
Highlights: Van der Poel soars to emotional Stage 2 win to claim yellow
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.
And 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.”
'I have no words' - Van Der Poel in tears after epic Stage 2 win
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 10 places 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.
The early phase of the 183.5km stage from Perros-Guirec was animated by a six-man break that played out against a polka-dot backdrop. When Belgium’s Edward Theuns (Trek-Segafredo), Frenchmen Anthony Perez (Cofidis), Australia's Simon Clarke (Qhubeka-Assos) and Germany's Jonas Koch (Intermarche-Wanty-Gobert) formed a four-man move in a hectic opening half hour along the rugged Breton coastline, Dutchman Ide Schelling (Bora-Hansgrohe) moved heaven and earth to get in the mix.
Leading Perez by just one point in the nascent king of the mountains standings after both riders featured in the breakaway on the opening day, Schelling was clearly hell-bent on losing the polka dot jersey so soon. 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.
The six riders established a maximum lead of four minutes over the peloton ahead of the first of four successive first-category climbs. On the first of those ascents, Perez took the initiative by zipping clear to take the point that saw him draw level with Schelling in the KOM standings.
Theuns won the following intermediate sprint at Plouha while, just under two-minutes behind, Britain’s Mark Cavendish rolled back the years and stretched his legs as he crossed the line behind Caleb Ewan and ahead of Jasper Philipsen, the sprinters taking what they could ahead of the punchy uphill ramped finish where they would inevitably fade.
On the second climb, Perez and Schelling put on a huge show as the Dutchman emerged victorious after a protracted polka-dot battle – the extra point reinstating his lead at the top of the standings. Neither rider was in the mix for the third climb, after Theuns zipped clear as the peloton closed in.
‘What a fight! What a character!’ - Schelling & Perez go shoulder-to-shoulder over Cote de Pordic
Theuns was joined by Cabot as the new leading duo stretched out a two-minute lead after the other escapees were reeled in not long after Clarke lost control on a slippery descent and hit the deck in the rain.
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.
With Theuns the last of the escapees to be caught on the final fourth-category climb, the focus shifted to the double ascent of the Cat.3 Cote de Menehiez – often wrongly called “the Mur de Bretagne”.
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 which 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.
Mindful of the high-speed crash that split the peloton in Saturday’s finale, Ineos Grenadiers had control of the race with five riders on the front as the deciding ascent loomed. But with four riders of their own, Alpecin-Fenix also signalled their intent.
After a brief move from Davide Formolo (UAE Team Emirates), Colombia’s Quintana, who rides for the local Breton team Arkea-Samsic, rolled the dice with 1.5km remaining. Van der Poel was first to react – and when the rangy Dutchman went clear on the Cote de Menehiez for the second time, he went with even more venom and intent than the first.
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-round 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.