Mathieu van der Poel, who made his Tour de France debut only yesterday, has done what his grandfather, the "eternal second" Raymond Poulidor never managed in his career, by taking the yellow jersey after attacking on both ascents of the Mur de Bretagne in the finale of today's second stage and riding clear to victory.
Defending champion Tadej Pogacar of UAE Team Emirates and last year’s runner-up, Jumbo-Visma’s Primoz Roglic, finished second and third respectively on the 183.5km stage from Perros-Giurec, 6 seconds behind van der Poel, with overnight leader Julian Alaphillippe of Deceuninck-Quick Step a further 2 seconds back in fifth place.
Today, van der Poel was back in Alpecin-Fenix’s usual kit of navy blue, as opposed to the purple and yellow one the team wore yesterday in tribute the Mercier colours sported by his grandfather, who died in 2019 and finished on the Tour de France podium eight times – three of those as runner-up – but never led the race, far less win it, his career coinciding with those of two five-time winners, Jacques Anquetil and Eddy Merckx.
The 26-year-old Dutch rider had been favourite for today’s stage, but the way in which he rode himself into the yellow jersey was testimony not just to the strength of his legs, but also the sharpness of his mind.
He attacked early on the first ascent of the Mur de Bretagne, which covers 2km at 6.9 per cent, quickly establishing a gap, but heading towards the top of the climb he was looking around, allowing his rivals to come back to him while ensuring he crossed the line first – and took the eight bonus seconds on offer.
That put him 10 seconds behind Alaphilippe – the same as the bonus on offer for crossing the line first – while, with 15.3km remaining, not continuing his attack meant he could hold some strength in reserve for the final ascent to the line.
Approaching the flamme rouge as the stage headed into its final kilometre, he responded first to an attack by Arkea-Samsic’s Nairo Quintana, then to a move by the new Italian champion, Sonny Colbrelli of Bahrain Victorious – and when he struck out on his own, no-one could follow him as he headed alone to the finish line and into the race lead.
Behind, 2018 champion Geraint Thomas of Ineos Grenadiers was distanced from the group of favourites and drops from 10th to 20th overall, 41 seconds down on van der Poel and losing at least a quarter of a minute to his main rivals.
Pogacar and Roglic, meanwhile, crossed the line on the first climb of the Mur de Bretagne in the same order behind the Dutchman in which they would finish the stage, the bonus seconds they picked up on each occasion putting them in third and fourth place overall, respectively, behind van der Poel and Alaphilippe.
The last of the day’s six escapees, Edward Theuns of Trek-Segafredo, had been caught just after cresting a Category 4 climb as the race headed onto the opening circuit and the double ascent of the Mur de Bretagne.
Earlier, at the day’s intermediate sprint, there had been a hint of how the points classification may be fought this year as, with the break already through, both Mark Cavendish of Deceuninck-Quick Step and Lotto-Soudal’s Caleb Ewan fought for seventh place, the Australian edging out the Manxman to take the nine points on offer.
With nearly 100km left to ride, Cavendish then put in a big turn at the front of the group on behalf of Alaphilippe, earning a pat on the back from the world champion when his stint finished.
Thankfully, there was no repeat of the two big crashes that marred yesterday’s opening stage, and four-time champion Chris Froome, who came down heavily in the second of those made it safely through today’s stage, finishing 11 minutes 21 seconds behind the winner.
Simon joined road.cc as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.