Van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) joins Van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) and Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck - Quick-Step) in getting a stage win at this year's race in another intense uphill sprint finish.
The stage looked like it could go to the breakaway at around the halfway point with the gap up at around 9-30 before Van der Poel's team started the chase to gradually bring the riders back with around 5km to go.
Van Aert keeps his overall lead ahead of Van der Poel by just four seconds going into the big mountain stage up to the Pradi di Tivo tomorrow.
How it happened
Stage two of Tirreno-Adriatico started off in the town of Monticiano before then taking in a hilly route over to Gualdo Tadino over 219km.
A five-man break went up the road early on and included Tobias Ludvigsson (Groupama-FDJ), Mark Padun (Bahrain Victorious), Guillaume Boivin (Israel Start-Up Nation), Niki Terpstra (Total Direct Energie), and Davide Bais (Eolo-Kometa). The break managed to establish a gap of just over nine and a half minutes at its peak.
It was Mathieu van der Poel who decided to hit the front of the peloton with 98km to go as he and his team tried to create a split in the crosswinds, but no other team was keen to go with it.
Meanwhile, Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Soudal) was dropped out of the back of the peloton with the Australian rider needing sugary drinks and food as he struggled to get back in before being forced to abandon with illness
Other members of the peloton then decided to work with Alpecin-Fenix as Ineos Grenadiers, Deceuninck - Quick-Step and Bora-Hansgrohe were all almost sprinting to try and split the peloton with 95km to go, bringing the break's gap right down to five and a half minutes.
Not many riders got dropped out of the peloton with just a couple of small groups finding their way back into the main bunch with 92km to go.
The pace then dropped again with the gap heading back up to six minutes before Alpecin-Fenix returned to the front to try and keep the gap down with 50km to go.
A few kilometres later Alpecin-Fenix were joined by Deceuninck - Quick-Step with Jumbo-Visma just sat behind as the gap came down to three and half minutes with 41km to go.
The two team’s continued with just one rider each on the front until 11km to go when various teams started to come up to control the pace and protect their leaders. Both Ludvigsson and Bais dropped back from the break into the peloton leaving three riders up the road.
Several riders went down in a crash with just over 3km to go including the likes of Stefan Küng (Groupama-FDJ), before the break was caught about 200 metres later.
After that the pace rocketed as Jumbo-Visma took full control with Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert and BikeExchange challenging for the lead when they headed under the flamme rouge.
It was Deceuninck - Quick-Step who led into the closing moments of the stage though, with Julian Alaphilippe letting the wheel go of his team-mate, Zdeněk Štybar, in the final 500 metres. That forced Wout van Aert to drag the Czech rider back on his own with Van der Poel sat on the wheel going into the final corner.
After catching Štybar they came around the final bend and Van der Poel kicked hard with a vicious acceleration, making sure he held off the sprint of Van Aert to take victory.
Van Aert does hold onto the blue leaders jersey going into stage four, but it is arguably the hardest of the stages with it being the only major mountain stage of the entire race.
Tirreno-Adriatico 2021, stage three: Monticiano to Gualdo Tadino (219km)
1. Mathieu van der Poel (Ned) Alpecin-Fenix, in 5-24-18
2. Wout van Aert (Bel) Team Jumbo-Visma
3. Davide Ballerini (Ita) Deceuninck - Quick-Step
4. Sergio Higuita (Col) EF Education-Nippo
5. Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) Ag2r La Mondiale-Citroën
6. Jasper De Buyst (Bel) Lotto-Soudal
7. Iván García Cortina (Esp) Movistar Team
8. Tadej Pogačar (Slo) UAE Team Emirates
9. Gonzalo Serrano (Esp) Movistar Team
10. Hugo Hofstetter (Fra) Israel Start-Up Nation, all at same time
General classification after stage three
1. Wout van Aert (Bel) Team Jumbo-Visma, in 14-01-47
2. Mathieu van der Poel (Ned) Alpecin-Fenix, at 4 seconds
3. Julian Alaphilippe (Fra) Deceuninck - Quick-Step, at 10s
4. Mikel Landa (Esp) Bahrain Victorious, at 19s
5. Tadej Pogačar (Slo) UAE Team Emirates, at 20s
6. Robert Stannard (Aus) Team BikeExchange
7. João Almeida (Por) Deceuninck - Quick-Step
8. Sergio Higuita (Col) EF Education-Nippo
9. Jasper De Buyst (Bel) Lotto-Soudal
10. Patrick Konrad (Aut) Bora-Hansgrohe, all at same time
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