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Tour de France

Mathieu van der Poel: A yellow and green jersey contender at the Tour de France?

Grippy opening stages offer Dutch steam train an opportunity to grab yellow, and green could be waiting for him in Paris – if he wants it.

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He’s got a fistful of world cyclocross champion and national champion’s jerseys in his wardrobe already.

Could Mathieu van der Poel add a Tour de France yellow and green jersey to his already-stuffed locker this summer?

Judging by his form at the Tour de Suisse this week, it looks well within the Dutchman’s grasp – unless a certain Olympic medal goal gets in his way.

After two months on the mountain bike, van der Poel blasted to two stage wins in as many days on his return to road racing in Switzerland, and he could well land a hat trick Wednesday.

With a highly-anticipated Tour debut on the very near horizon, tongues are wagging about just how far van der Poel could go in France. But it all depends on how long he chooses to hang around in the grand tour furnace as he warms his jets for an assault on the cross country mountain bike race in Tokyo.

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One thing that is for certain is that van der Poel could take the first yellow jersey of the Tour in Brittany at the end of this month.

Two classic-style stages through the narrow roads and steep hills of northwestern France offer van der Poel the type of tricky terrain that he’s made his playground through recent seasons.

Also read: Van der Poel, van Aert top contenders for Tour’s first stages

With Wout van Aert on course for a slow start to the Tour after a recent appendectomy torpedoed his training schedule, Julian Alaphilippe looks the best-placed to bother van der Poel in the race for an early yellow jersey. Although the Frenchman has shown his trademark attacking flair through the Swiss tour so far this week, he’s been left floundering when van der Poel has stamped for his two long-range sprints to victory.

While van der Poel has strong odds of claiming yellow in the tour’s tough first week, the chances of him wearing the green jersey into Paris are slim.

“The Olympics for sure is the biggest goal of the summer for me,” van der Poel said earlier this month. “It is a goal that I have been working towards for a couple of years so that will hopefully be the highlight of the summer.”

With the MTB cross country race falling just eight days after the Tour rolls into Paris, it’s unlikely van der Poel will ride three weeks in France. But with van der Poel looking unstoppable in a tough-guy sprint and proving surprisingly tenacious on the climbs in Switzerland this week, the green jersey could be there for the taking should he dare to gamble.

This week more than ever, Alpecin-Fenix has shown that while van der Poel is the star, it’s no one-man-band – and that it has all the horsepower it needs to contend for green.

The second-tier squad has been taking it to its WorldTour rivals through the season and has gone into Suisse at full steam. Through both stages 2 and 3, the Belgian squad has set the tempo on the climbs and squeezed the pressure on a field stacked with WorldTour toppers.

With a team of aggressive and canny – if inexperienced – riders at his side, van der Poel has what he needs to battle the likes of Sam Bennett and Peter Sagan for the prestigious green jersey.

Should van der Poel choose to ride through to Paris, and if Alpecin-Fenix is able to balance his ambitions with those of rising sprinter Tim Merlier, van der Poel could be stuffing a green jersey into his suitcase as he departs France.

It’s all a very big “If,” and van der Poel remains tantalizingly vague about his Tour de France ambitions. Speaking after his stage win Tuesday, he sidestepped questions about how much he was thinking about his grand tour debut.

“Not that much, I focus goal by goal,” he said.

Could van der Poel be in yellow on stage 1 and green after 21? It’s unlikely, but this season more than ever, pro cycling is a sport filled with the least likely of storylines …