Mathieu van der Poel: ‘It was my last chance to get the yellow jersey’

Mathieu van der Poel wearing the yellow jersey after stage 2 of the Tour de France.

by Kit Nicholson

photography by Cor Vos


Mathieu van der Poel demonstrated his characteristic attacking style to win stage 2 of the Tour de France, 15 km after taking the lion’s share of bonus seconds on the first passage of the finish line. That foresight and his winning advantage put him in the yellow jersey of race leader.

“I didn’t really have a plan for today,” Van der Poel told AD sportwereld. “I felt a lot better than yesterday. I attacked for the first time and no one followed. I went on for the bonus seconds because I knew it was my last chance to get the yellow jersey. It was all or nothing.”

Van der Poel was a top favourite for stage 1, but though he attempted to follow Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-QuickStep), he ultimately finished 20th in the group eight seconds behind the stage winner. Taking Alaphilippe’s ten second finish line bonus into account, that meant that Van der Poel had a GC deficit of 18 seconds going into stage 2.

“When I launched my attack with 800 meters to go, no one followed me, so I kept going,” he said in his post-stage interview. “The last 500 meters were really painful, but I knew I had to go full gas in order to win. I didn’t learn that I had taken the yellow jersey until 5 minutes after the finish line. To finish it off like this is incredible. I felt much better today than I did yesterday. Maybe yesterday I was under a bit of stress.”

One day after riding in a special edition jersey that paid tribute to his grandfather, Raymond Poulidor, Van der Poel pointed to the heavens as he crossed the line, a gesture whose meaning was clear. His grandfather, a legend of French cycling, passed away in November 2019. Shortly after the end of the stage, an interviewer asked who he was thinking of as he approached the finish. Van der Poel gave the short answer, “My Grandad, of course,” before the full weight of the result washed over him and he broke down in tears.

“Having him [his grandfather] here would have made it even better,” he told AD sportwereld. “People who know me know how close we were. I am really struggling.”

Poulidor won seven stages in 14 Tour de France participations, but he never got to wear the yellow jersey. Van der Poel is not the first in his family to wear the coveted jersey, though. Mathieu’s father Adrie led the Tour de France for one day in 1984, three years before he’d win his first of two Tour stages.

“I have seen my dad’s yellow jersey once or twice. It’s in a box, not on display. I so would have wanted to take a picture with my grandfather here. That would have been so great.”

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