IT’S better late than never for a Tour de France family celebration, writes JOHN TREVORROW:
STAGE two of the Tour de France delivered one of the best feel good stories in the event’s long history.
As Dutchman Mathieu Van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) surged clear to take the victory he raised his arm and pointed to the sky as a tribute to his much-loved grandfather Raymond Poulidor who passed away 18 months ago.
Over his long and distinguished career Poulidor finished second three times and third five times in Le Tour but never won a stage and, surprisingly, never wore the prized yellow leader’s jersey. In later life Poulidor, ironically, became the face of the yellow jersey travelling around Le Tour and was, arguably, the most loved sportsman in France.
Mathieu’s father Adri won two stages in the Tour during a stella career and I was fortunate enough to race against him in his first year as a professional in 1981. And I was also lucky enough to race against grandad Raymond at the end of his career in 1976.
The 183 km stage from Perros-Guire to Mur-de- Bretagne was always going to be decided on the double ascent of the highest point in Brittany. Once the early breakaway was closed down it was Van de Poel that attacked on the penultimate climb. It looked like he was trying to go for a solo breakaway but he had a plan. There was an eight second bonus second up for grabs with the penultimate climb and once he snaffled that he sat back in the peloton and waited until the final climb.
There are very few riders that can go full gas on a climb and go deep into the “red zone” then repeat the effort only a few minutes later, but the lanky Dutchman is one of them.
Van der Poel may one day challenge for an overall win at the Tour de France but it won’t be this year. Most likely he won’t even finish this year’s Tour as his next main focus is the Olympic Games in Tokyo where he is the favourite for the gold medal in a completely different sport – Mountain Bike – only eight days after the Tour finishes in Paris.
The first two stages have revealed who has the best form and it is looking more like the two Slovenians who dominated last year will do so again. Defending champion Tadej Pogacar (UAE Emirates) just pipped compatriot Primoz Roglic (Jumbo Visma) to the summit, while the crack British Ineos Grenadiers squad have shown some cracks of their own with Geraint Thomas losing time. Ecuadorian Richard Carapaz is the only member who has not shown signs of any weakness but he will lose a fair chunk of time in the two individual time trials.
With Richie Porte and Ben O’Connor losing time through the crashes, and to a lesser extent Lucas Hamilton, Austraiia’s hope for a podium finish are now resting on the shoulders of Jack Haig. He was again up the pointy end when the whips were cracking and he sits in sixth overall only 26 seconds back.Embed from Getty Images
Australia’s big hope for multiple stage wins is the pocket rocket Caleb Ewan and he has shown serious speed in the intermediate sprints so far. The breakaway took the first six positions in the stage 2 intermediate sprint but Ewan was again too fast for his opposition in the interesting battle for the green jersey. The powerful sprinter from Bowral and his dedicated Lotto Soudal team look set to dominate the sprint stages.