Van der Poel lives up to the hype with sublime stage win
Usually such a cool customer, Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) was almost speechless with emotion in the post-race interview upon winning the stage and becoming the new overall leader of the race. It was a stunning victory, rendered even more extraordinary by the fact that he had achieved on just his second ever day at the Tour what his grandfather, Raymond Poulidor, had famously spent a career trying but never quite managing to do — wear the yellow jersey.
Van der Poel being Van der Poel, he didn’t do it the straightforward way. Rather than simply wait and preserve all of his energy for the finish, he chose to launch an attack over the first ascent at Mûr-de-Bretagne, stretching out a significant advantage before being caught again by the peloton.
Somehow, despite using up so much energy with this attack, he still had the legs to make an astonishing acceleration at the finish to obliterate the rest of the field and win by a gap of six seconds, the biggest winning margin yet for a Tour stage finish at Mûr-de-Bretagne.
That initial attack might have seemed like a crazy move for someone hoping to win the stage in a sprint, but there was a method in the madness. By going clear of the peloton he was able to pick up the maximum number of bonus seconds at the intermediate sprint, which aided him in what was his number one goal of the day — gaining the yellow jersey.
The yellow jersey is a huge deal to Van der Poel, given his relation to Poulidor. The way he gestured to the heavens to dedicate the win to his grandfather, who died just a few years ago, was an overwhelming moment that will surely be talked about for years to come as a beautiful moment in Tour de France history.
Ineos’ bad start continues as Thomas loses time
Most of the GC candidates successfully made it to the top of the climb at Mûr-de-Bretagne without being distanced, as a peloton still made up of 27 riders reached the finish together.
But there was one very significant exception — Geraint Thomas, who led a group of stragglers labouring to the finish 15 seconds adrift.
Fifteen seconds is not a lot of time to lose in the grand scheme of things, but is a worrying indication of where his form is. There’s no way he should be getting dropped on a climb like this, and the problem appeared to be a lack of legs rather than bad positioning, as his Ineos Grenadiers team had done a good job of riding at the front onto the climb.
We’ll have a better idea of whether this was just a temporary blip or if his GC aspirations are genuinely in peril on Wednesday’s time trial stage, which had been viewed as one of his best opportunities to gain time on the other GC contenders.
With Richie Porte and Tao Geoghegan Hart both losing so much time yesterday after the crashes, this has been a far from ideal start to the Tour for Ineos, but at least Richard Carapaz has had no significant problems. At this rate, he may find himself outright leader.
Rog and Pog gaining time already
In an ominous sign for all the other overall contenders hoping to mount a fight for the yellow jersey this year, Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) and Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) have already moved up to third and fourth on GC respectively.
Both Slovenians led the peloton home behind Van der Poel at the finish, and sprinted quickly enough to gain a small gap (alone with Bora-Hansgrohe’s Wilco Kelderman) of two seconds over the rest.
Earlier, they had gained even more time in a sprint for bonus seconds at an the top of the first ascent of the Mûr-de-Bretagne, where they again finished behind Van der Poel to gain five and two seconds respectively.
These sprints show just what complete riders they are. The best climbers are often lacking a little in sprints, but these are able to duke it out with the very best puncheurs, and this ability to keep picking up bonus seconds in sprints will surely dishearten anyone scratching their heads to think of ways to gain time over them over the next three weeks.
Their success in these sprints also confirm that both are on red hot form, reiterating their status as the two clear favourites to win the yellow jersey.
Cavendish and Ewan among many sprinters indicating green jersey interest
No-one is expecting too much of Mark Cavendish (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) at this Tour given the last-minute nature of his call-up and his lack of racing at the very highest level this season, but that didn’t stop him from making a confident statement of intent by going for green jersey points at the day’s intermediate sprint.
Cavendish came second in the sprint in the peloton after the six breakaway riders had scooped up the maximum points, enough to gain him eight points in the classification. Repeating his 2011 success by winning it seems unlikely, but maybe wearing it if he can enjoy success in the upcoming flat stages is on Cavendish’s mind.
The only sprinter ahead of him at the intermediate sprint was Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Soudal), who has also raised eyebrows by contesting points both today and yesterday. The Australian does not usually make the points jersey a priority at Grand Tours, but seems to have taken a different course this year, despite the extra strain of fulfilling his ambition of winning a stage in all three Grand Tours this season.
The classification will really get going tomorrow on what is expected to be a bunch finish, and with the likes of Arnaud Démare (Groupama-FDJ), Michael Matthews (BikeExchange), Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin-Fenix) and, of course, Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) all also signalling an intention to go for points, it could be a really hotly contest classification this year.
Schelling and Perez entertain us with almighty battle for the polka-dot jersey
If you want an idea of how much even the minor sub-plots matter in a race as uniquely big and important as the Tour de France, then consider the almighty battle that took place today between Ide Schelling (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Anthony Perez (Cofidis) for King of the Mountains points.
After Perez had put Schelling’s lead in the mountains classification by winning the sprint at the top of the first climb of the day, the two went hammer and tongs at each other over the next climb, the Côte de Saint-Brieuc. Each tried to drop the other with fully committed accelerations, and ultimately ended up sprinting against each other emphatically as the summit approached, visibly going far deeper than you’d ever usually see for a King of the Mountains sprint.
Schelling just about came out on top, and let out the kind of pumped-up celebration you might usually expect from someone who had just won the stage. All that, just for one single point.
Neither rider can even be expected to be contesting for the classification deeper in the race — their battle today was rather for the right to wear the iconic polka-dot jersey for just a few more days, before we reach the serious climbs later next week.
Schelling won the battle and will continue to wear the jersey, and that such an apparently minor part of the race meant to so much to him is what makes the Tour such a uniquely special race.
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