Tour de France leader Mathieu van der Poel, after his fifth day in the yellow jersey, has strongly played down any speculation that in the future he might end up trying to go for an overall victory at the race.
The Netherlands last won the Tour de France in 1980 with Joop Zoetemelk, and although Tom Dumoulin’s success in the Giro d’Italia and podium placing in the Tour de France had raised the country’s hopes, for now, the quest for a successor to Zoetemelk has proved fruitless.
However, when the Alpecin-Fenix leader was ‘popped the question’ about winning the Tour de France one day on Thursday, he quickly nipped that particular suggestion in the bud.
“No, I really don’t think so,” he told reporters. “For sure I can be in yellow for a week this year, but we’ve not climbed any mountains yet. So there’s no real comparison with what we’re facing in the next two weeks.”
Even prior to Thursday’s answer Van der Poel had already resigned himself to losing the yellow jersey, most likely to Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) in the upcoming ascents this weekend. But he was less certain about how Friday’s stage, which is widely viewed as one of the most unpredictable of this year’s Tour, will play out.
“It’s the longest stage of the race and it’s going to be a hard battle,” he commented. “For sure some of the guys will go for the overall and we’ll see what happens. A lot will depend on how the bunch races in the first part of the stage and what the specialist climbers are planning to do.”
On much flatter terrain on Thursday’s finish, the ultra-versatile Van der Poel was present in the closing kilometres, trying to give Tim Merlier and Jasper Philipsen their best chance against Mark Cavendish (Deceuninck-QuickStep).
Neither sprinter – with Merlier as the last lead out for Philipsen – proved capable of beating the ‘Manx Missile’ but Van der Poel was adamant this was not the last time Alpecin-Fenix would try to do so.
“It was all going pretty OK towards the finish line and I did what I could for the lead-out but I think they lost my wheel at the last corner and then I had to get back to them,” Van der Poel explained.
All was not totally lost though as Alpecin-Fenix’s line of sprinters managed to regain momentum again, as Van der Poel pointed out. However, they then faced another problem.
“We managed to set up the train really well but Cavendish was so fast. We’ll keep trying,” he promised.
“It’s incredible. Cavendish hasn’t been to this finish for ten years and he did an amazing ride again.”
As for Van der Poel, a flat run across central France on Thursday’s stage 6 proved uneventful and without threats to his lead. As he put it “it wasn’t so hard, the start was pretty tough but the rest was easier.” And he concluded by half-joking that “I don’t think Tadej wants the yellow jersey yet.” That may change, though very soon.