The Alpecin-Fenix rider was keen to keep yellow for another day on a stage that arguably suited his characteristics, but the race has not seen the yellow jersey go into the breakaway since Greg Van Avermaet did so in 2018.
Van der Poel made sure he got into the escape after he saw some dangerous riders and main rivals Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) and Kasper Asgreen (Deceuninck - Quick-Step) getting up the road. The Dutchman then just stuck to their wheels.
Speaking after the stage, which was the longest in 21 years, he said: "It was not my idea [to go into the break] but a lot of guys were going in the breakaway and it was a bit boring in the beginning and all of a sudden it was a big group and we were racing all day. I’m really happy with the result, to be keeping the jersey after today.
He managed to extend his lead in yellow to 30 seconds as Van Aert is now his closest challenger with Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) slipping to almost four minutes.
"For sure it was very hard. I think a lot of guys already were tired before the climb even started, it was just a brutal day," continued Van der Poel.
"I haven’t witnessed that for a long time on the bike, to race for so long on a bike, and in a Grand Tour, my first Grand Tour. I haven’t seen this."
Matej Mohorič (Bahrain Victorious) took the stage win and Van der Poel was content with the Slovenian staying away as he focussed solely on the jersey and making sure he kept it.
"I was there with the yellow jersey in mind. It’s impossible to go for the stage win. Van Aert and Asgreen were close to me in the GC and I had to react to them, I’m happy to keep the jersey for another day."
It is still expected that Van der Poel will leave the race early to head over to Japan and ride the cross-country mountain bike event at the Olympic Games, but he is still being asked how long he can hold on and if he's a GC man now.
"I’m not here for GC ambitions, that’s pretty clear. Now, I get to keep the jersey for one more day and we’ll see what that brings, but I’m not here to do a GC.
"I had my stage win on the Mûr de Bretagne, I’m really happy with that. For sure it was really difficult today. The yellow jersey isn’t easy to win like I said it’s a different approach to the race, I just wanted to keep the jersey so I only reacted to the people close to me in the general."
Stage eight is the first major mountains stage as we finally reach the Alps for a weekend of climbing with the eighth day being a 50.8km route from Oyonnax to Le Grand Bornand.
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