Tour de France: Mathieu van der Poel puts in ride of his life to keep yellow

A sleepless night, a 900km drive and a determined ride sees Mathieu van der Poel keep yellow for another day at the Tour de France.

Photo: Michael Steele/Getty Images

Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.

Céline Dion may have sung about the Power of Love, but the power of yellow at the Tour de France is something else, too.

Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) pulled out what was certainly the time trial of his life — and perhaps one of the rides of his life — to retain yellow by just eight seconds over an imperious Tadej Pogačar (UAE-Team Emirates).

Also read: Tour de France stage 5: Tadej Pogačar best against the clock

Coming into the Tour de France’s first time trial, the pervading opinion was that van der Poel had enjoyed a good stretch in the maillot jaune but his time was up. Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) was the big favorite to slip into yellow and there were some more strong time trialists waiting with bated breath behind him.

Van der Poel and his team had other plans, but it would take a big effort to hold on.

“I surprised myself today. I have to thank the team. We worked until midnight to get the best position on the bike. It was one of my best days on the bike,” van der Poel said, aware of the heroics he had just managed.

“I was able to push myself beyond my limits today and I’m proud of what I did. I saved some energy to really force myself toward the end. I needed to keep something in the tank. When I said yesterday that I would lose the jersey, it was not a lie.”

The Tour de France’s jersey is a wondrous thing and wearing it can give riders the ability to dig deep into their reserves, much further than they might have imagined. Van der Poel is a superlative rider who often makes winning look easy, but even he had to find something extra on the road to Laval.

We saw something similar with Lukas Pöstlberger at the Critérium du Dauphiné in June when pulled out a phenomenal ride to keep the leader’s jersey there. Now, imagine that performance but far bigger.

In van der Poel’s last time trial, a 10.9km test at the Tour de Suisse, he lost 38 seconds to Stefan Küng. He lost just 12 seconds to the Swiss time machine in Laval on Wednesday – and 31 to Pogačar – over 27.2km.

Also read: Mathieu van der Poel’s Tour de France Canyon Aeroad gallery

Van der Poel was likely not pushing that hard in Suisse but his turnaround to keep the Tour de France yellow is hugely impressive and should go down as one of his best ever rides.

After all of that, van der Poel will be glad to know that there is a sprint stage coming Thursday. Friday’s hilly stage seven could prove tight in terms of holding onto the yellow, but he should still have it on his shoulders until the weekend.

Stage 8 to Le Grand-Bornand will certainly be the end of his reign in yellow.

A race across France

The effort was not only on the road.

When van der Poel arrived at the Tour de France, he probably didn’t think that he would be within a shot of keeping yellow after the time trial. However, with the chaos and carnage of the opening days, he had a clear margin over some of the big TT names.

Van der Poel saw a chance and so did his bike supplier Canyon, who reportedly wanted him to keep the fabled jersey a little longer.

In the end, a large part of the work to defend the jersey came together in a last-minute scramble to get extra equipment under the Dutchman.

According to Belgian publication Het Niewsblad, Alpecin-Fenix team manager Christoph Roodhooft hit the phones in order to give his superstar some new time trial wheels and the best chance of keeping yellow. On the other end of the phone was the Meindert Klem of Princeton CabonWorks, who Roodhooft had met on a bike ride last year.

At the last minute, Klem got a hold of some Princeton CarbonWorks wheels — which also happen to be the unbranded wheels for many on the Ineos Grenadiers squad. Ineos Grenadiers are using the American wheel brand at the Tour de France, but they certainly weren’t going to give any of theirs away.

In the end, Alepcin-Fenix had to pay a tidy sum to secure wheels just for van der Poel. According to Het Niewsblad, the team had to shell out €3,800 to secure the Princeton CarbonWorks disc and the Aerocoach Aeox Titan front wheel, before driving nearly the full length of France to get it to him.

“The simplest solution to the problem seemed to me to borrow a couple from Ineos, but of course they are not so keen on that if they have invested a lot of money in it,” Klem told Het Nieuwsblad. “An additional complication is that these time trial wheels are not yet available on the Dutch market. Finally, I found some unused wheels at Cameron Wurf, an Ineos rider who lives in Andorra.

“I don’t know who paid for it. The amount was paid by credit card, but how would I get that to the mechanics of Alpecin, 900 kilometers north, within 24 hours?”

In the end, a Dutch hotelier named Mark Putter, who is based in the Pyrenees, agreed to take on the arduous task and drove the 10 hours it took to get to the Alpecin-Fenix hotel. After all of that, the team mechanics had to work hard to ensure everything was pitch-perfect for the ride.

After all that effort, Van der Poel only used the rear wheel in the end but it appears to have been worth the hassle.

Time trialing is often seen as a lonely pursuit but van der Poel’s ride to retain the yellow jersey was a huge team effort. Thankfully for all of those who quite literally lost sleep over his bike set-up, the Dutchman pulled out the goods.

How could we have ever doubted him?

Trending on Velo

An American in France

What’s it like to be an American cyclist living in France? Watch to get professional road cyclist Joe Dombrowski’s view.