Mathieu van der Poel spectacularly moved into the yellow jersey at the Tour de France after winning stage two atop the Mûr-de-Bretagne.
The Alpecin-Fenix rider was determined to win the stage and move to the summit of the race’s general classification, making two serious attacks in the final 20km, the final sticking to inherit the lead from Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck – Quick-Step).
Van der Poel attacked in the final kilometre of the race and crossed the finishing line eight seconds ahead of Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) and Primoż Roglič (Jumbo-Visma)
Due to taking the 10 bonus seconds on the line, and the eight he claimed on the first ascent of the climb, the Dutchman moves into yellow with an advantage of eight seconds to Alaphilippe.
An emotional Van der Poel was in tears after the race, honouring the victory to his late grandfather Raymond Poulidor who finished on the Tour’s podium eight times but never wore yellow. “I have no words, really,” he sobbed. “It’s incredible.”
How it happened
Riders face another day on the gruelling ups and downs of the Brittany region on stage two of the 2021 Tour de France, with a 183.5km route from Perros-Guirec to Mûr-de-Bretagne, where the riders faced a tough uphill finish.
The day’s breakaway took a while to form but within 30km it was set. Six riders made up the group, led by King of the Mountains leader Ide Schelling (Bora-Hansgrohe).
He was joined by Edward Theuns of Trek-Segafredo, Simon Clarke of Qhubeka-NextHash, Intermaché’s Jonas Koch, Cofidis rider Anthony Perez, and TotalEnergies’ Jeremey Cabot. They were permitted an advantage of around four minutes.
At the day’s only intermediate sprint, Theuns took the maximum 20 points with Koch taking the second most of 17. It left the peloton sprinting for remaining points on offer, and Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Soudal) beat Mark Cavendish of Deceuninck – Quick-Step to nine points.
Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) only claimed three, with Arnaud Démare, the winner of the 2020 Giro d’Italia points jersey, taking six.
The break’s gap rapidly came down with around 90km to go, dropping to an advantage of 1-20. Half an hour later, and their cohesion was torn apart when Theuns attacked and was only joined by Cabot, Perez and Schelling.
Holding a lead of 1-40, Cabot and Theuns were then the only two riders who opted to stay out front with 60km left to race, the pair maintaining their advantage until 20km from the finish line.
In that period the peloton were content to keep them within two minutes, but clearly wanted no escapes out front on the finish circuit that included two ascents of Mûr-de-Bretagne.
As the peloton climbed up the Mûr for the first time, TV cameras picked out Chris Froome being dropped, the Israel Start-Up Nation hoping to simply survive the stage after being caught up in stage one’s second big crash.
At 16.8km, and with Theuns caught, Van der Poel caught everyone by surprise with an early attack.
The Dutchman, however, was unable to build a significant advantage and he was within sights just as the riders approached the summit of the Mûr-de-Bretagne.
Van der Poel did take the eight bonus seconds on offer for the first rider across the summit, though, with Tadej Pogačar taking a crucial five bonus seconds, and Primoż Roglič two. Richard Carapaz had attempted to take back some of the eight seconds he ceded on stage one.
The race then entered a moment of calm, headed by Ineos Grenadiers, before the final ascent began with two kilometres to go.
Iconic and frequently used in the Tour, the Mûr-de-Bretagne has an average gradient of just under seven per cent, enough to tempt most riders.
Richie Porte of Ineos Grenadiers set a searing pace on the front in the first or the two kilometres, and with 1.3km to go Nairo Quintana (Arkéa-Samsic) attacked from deep.
That move ignited a response from Van der Poel. Pogačar and Roglič were also attentive, as was Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain-Victorious), who made his move with 900m between him and the line.
The sight of Colbrelli forced a second reaction from Van der Poel, Pogačar and Roglič, and within 150m the cyclocross world champion had jumped clear and this time his attack was to stay.
It was surprising how Alaphilippe especially didn’t respond to the Dutch superstar, with the Frenchman seemingly content to gift the yellow jersey to his biggest rival.
Van der Poel rode to an emotional victory eight seconds ahead of Pogačar and Roglič, the Slovenians taking second and third and the bonus seconds on offer, an early reminder that they are the race’s two favourites for yellow come Paris.
The Tour continues with stage three tomorrow, a 182.9km from Lorient to Pontivy which should see the race's first sprint finish.
Tour de France 2021, stage two: Perros-Guirec to Mûr-de-Bretagne (183.5km)
1. Mathieu van der Poel (Ned) Alpecin-Fenix, in 4-18-30
2. Tadej Pogačar (Slo) UAE Team Emirates, at 6 seconds
3. Primož Roglič (Slo) Jumbo-Visma, at same time
4. Wilco Kelderman (Ned) Bora-Hansgrohe, at 8s
5. Julian Alaphilippe (Fra) Deceuninck-Quick-Step
6. Bauke Mollema (Ned) Trek-Segafredo
7. Jonas Vingegaard (Den) Jumbo-Visma
8. Sergio Higuita (Col) EF Education First-Nippo
9. Pierre Latour (Fra) TotalEnergies
10. Jack Haig (Aus) Bahrain Victorious, all at same time
General classification after stage two
1. Mathieu van der Poel (Ned) Alpecin-Fenix, in 8-57-25
2. Julian Alaphilippe (Fra) Deceuninck-Quick-Step, at 8 seconds
3. Tadej Pogačar (Slo) UAE Team Emirates, at 13s
4. Primož Roglič (Slo) Jumbo-Visma, at 14s
5. Wilco Kelderman (Ned) Bora-Hansgrohe, at 24s
6. Jack Haig (Aus) Bahrain Victorious, at 26s
7. Bauke Mollema (Ned) Trek-Segafredo
8. Sergio Higuita (Col) EF Education First-Nippo
9. Jonas Vingegaard (Den) Jumbo-Visma
10. David Gaudu (Fra) Groupama-FDJ, all at same time
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