Does he perfectly hide his game? Is it in its place on the grounds which correspond to it? Will he crack in the high mountains? If one cannot imagine (yet) Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) completing the same Tour as Julian Alaphilippe in 2019, the Dutchman has obviously taken a liking to his yellow overcoat, which he has been wearing since the 2nd stage.
If Primoz Roglic, nine minutes behind the winner of the day Matej Mohoric, is the huge loser of the day, Van der Poel is the big winner. Arrived in 4th position in the group against which also featured Wout Van Aert, the yellow jersey widened the gap on all those who threatened his place.
Yellow jersey on his back, he left in the breakaway, something rare enough to be underlined. Then the Dutchman controlled the two that worried him: Wout Van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) and Kasper Asgreen (Deceuninck-Quick Step). “Wout was really strong today. With Asgreen I had to keep an eye on them. I fought for one more day in yellow”, he congratulated himself at the end of the stage. On arrival, he stayed on the ground for a long time, prostrate, emptied by his efforts of the day and this final sprint to scavenge as much time as possible in the last few hundred meters.
On the evening of this 7th stage, there were only two riders within two minutes of him (Van Aert and Asgreen), whereas there were fourteen the day before. small seconds ahead of the voracious Tadej Pogacar on Thursday night, he now has a margin of 3’43 seconds over the Slovenian, and even more than five minutes over Richard Carapaz (5’19), another candidate for victory in this 108th edition .
With such gaps, while the peloton has not even entered the Alps yet, the question arises: how far can Mathieu van der Poel take his yellow jersey? In 2019, Julian Alaphilippe had thwarted all forecasts on his abilities by keeping the yellow jersey for fourteen days.
Without any reference in the high mountains, Van der Poel did not play the general classification on this first Tour, in particular because of the Olympic Games which are looming and where he is aiming for the title in mountain biking. But the yellow jersey transcends him and he can leave the Alps with him. “Today, I really went to the limit to keep this jersey. It all depends on how we race tomorrow (Saturday), but I will try to keep it”, he let go without going too far at the finish line.
Despite significant gaps even before the mountain, and two surprising performances on the clock on Wednesday and Friday, seeing Van der Poel fight for the final victory is more of a fantasy than of credible ambition: his profile and his team do not tick any box. of a Tour winner in recent years.
But if all his opponents continue to underestimate him, as the UAE-Emirates team did on Friday by letting him go in a river breakaway, Van der Poel will continue to scavenge, as Alaphilippe had done in 2019. “Maybe it’s a bit of our fault”, conceded Tadej Pogacar on arrival. “We weren’t expecting this breakaway. We spread out, we made a mistake. We had to limit the damage and I think we did a good job in this area”, explained the Slovenian, now 5th overall.
If panic is not in order for the leaders when no 1st category pass has yet been crossed, the Van der Poel anomaly begins to raise questions. “Van Aert climbs very very well, Van der Poel too. You should not give them ten minutes, they are dangerous”, confesses Tadej Pogacar, the defending champion. Does he really believe in it? The Alps should largely clear up the picture on Saturday.