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Van der Poel had fought on in the race seeking to ride back into form, having earlier said he was ‘a shadow’ of his usual self. Despite an adrenaline-stirring attack with long-time rival Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) early on Wednesday’s stage, he climbed off his bike.
The Dutchman finally called it quits on the ascent of the Col du Télégraphe, bringing to an end his second participation in the race.
He made his debut last year, winning stage 2 and leading the Tour for six days prior to voluntarily leaving the event to prepare for the Tokyo Olympics.
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His participation this time around has been considerably less successful, with fifth in the opening time trial his only top 10 result. He was also 19th on stage 2 and 25th on stage 3 but otherwise was outside the top 70 on every other day.
Speaking after the cobblestones on stage 5, a terrain where he would normally expect to shine, he said things hadn’t gone to plan at all.
“It’s not positive. Instead of a better day, I was worse today,” he told Wielerlflits then. “I am currently a shadow of myself and that is frustrating. I have no idea what it is about. I am not really ready to burn at the moment.”
Since then he hoped to reignite his usual flair. Attacking early on during Wednesday’s stage 11 gave Van der Poel’s fans some hope that things were on the up.
He went clear with Van Aert immediately after the start and opened a 40-second lead over the peloton. After netting second behind Van Aert in the intermediate sprint, he became part of a 20-man breakaway group when other riders bridged across to them.
However, Van der Poel was the first of those riders to be dropped, cracking just under 50 kilometers into the stage and sliding backward to, and through, the peloton. He retired from the race almost exactly one hour after dropping from the break.
The Dutchman and his team will take time to work out what went wrong at the Tour but it is quite possible that an over-ambitious schedule this year will have been a factor.
Too much too soon?
After suffering from back problems which delayed his season start, he was third in Milan San Remo, his first event of the year, won a stage in the Settimana Internazionale di Coppi e Bartali, took both the Tour of Flanders and Dwars door Vlaanderen, was fourth in the Amstel Gold Race and ninth in Paris-Roubaix, He then lined out in the Giro d’Italia.
Van der Poel shone there, winning the opening stage to take the pink jersey, then finishing second on stage two. He also took stage placings of second and seventh elsewhere in the event, was constantly on the attack throughout the event, and then took third in the final time trial.
He was judged the most aggressive rider on stage 17 and also for the race as a whole.
“I didn’t have the best preparation for the Giro, it was really tight after the classics season,” he said after the end of the Italian grand tour. “To succeed in my main goal, I was going for the pink jersey. Finishing the Giro was also one of the goals and I succeeded. I think I can be really happy.”
He clearly wasn’t in anything like the same shape in the Tour de France. Many riders have struggled to ride well in both the Giro and the Tour de France, including general classification riders who are more suited to the demands of the high mountains.
Van der Poel and Alpecin-Deceuninck may ultimately conclude that trying both Grand Tours on the back of a patchy winter and hectic early season may have burned all his matches.
Indeed Van der Poel has already said this is a possibility.
“I knew it wasn’t going to be an easy combination. But I didn’t expect to be so disappointing myself,” he told reporters at the end of stage 6. “For me, three weeks of racing is different from racing one race – that also applies to me mentally.
“In the Giro, there was that chance of pink and I wanted to finish the whole race anyway. But now here we are. It’s not fun like this.”
Six days later, he’s decided the pain is not yielding any gain.