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Van der Poel had an exciting spell in the Tour’s yellow jersey in his grand tour debut in 2021, taking it on stage 2 and defending it with an impressive time trial to keep it all the way until stage 8.
He will have to rely on another strong time trial performance Friday if he wants to keep himself in contention for the maillot jaune. If he can stay within touching distance of the TT specialists, Van der Poel believes he has a shot at yellow in the stages to come.
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“Tomorrow, if I can put myself in the top 10 and do a good time trial then maybe there’s something possible to still try and get the yellow jersey, but it’s going to be more difficult than it was last year,” Van der Poel said from his team hotel on the eve of the Tour de France.
“Last year, with the first two stages, the yellow jersey was really a big chance for me. With succeeding [in getting it] maybe this year, it’s a bit less of a stress factor. I just have to see what is possible. I don’t know where I will be against specialists in a time trial, and if I lose 10 to 15 seconds, which would be a really good performance, then I can maybe try something in the days after maybe. Until the Roubaix stage or something possible, so you never know. The TT hurts anyway, so it’s better to just go all out, I guess, and to see what the what I can do.”
Van der Poel arrives at the Tour de France well equipped for the opening time trial after his team’s kit sponsor provided the squad with some new high-tech skinsuits for the occasion. Kalas partnered up with aero brand Vorteq to produce the custom-made kit, which costs a tidy $3,400 per piece.
The Dutchman hasn’t tried it out yet but will test the kit and be properly fitted for it Thursday afternoon. It is a costly investment for the squad, but Van der Poel believes that an all-in approach is important if you want to do well in a time trial.
“It’s beginning to look a bit like Formula One in some aspects and it’s really something special, you really have to have the latest tech, the best aero positioning to even get a chance at winning. I think power output alone is not enough anymore and that also makes it quite a cool aspect of the sport,” he said.
“I have the power output to do it and that gets me in the top 10 a lot of the times, but to really be amongst the best but you really have to get those marginal gains, and really be busy with it the whole year. That’s not really the case in my setup now but I think along the way, we made a few steps to get it better. And that showed already in the results.”
Stage wins on the mind
Van der Poel is not just at the Tour de France for a potential spell in the yellow jersey, he would like to grab one or two stage wins along the way. He’s already got one grand tour stage victory under his belt this season after winning on the opening day of the Giro d’Italia, and he went all-out in an effort to add a second.
Though he didn’t succeed in getting the much desired second stage victory, he enjoyed his time trying and he’s planning to have some fun again this summer.
“For sure, I hope I will enjoy myself as I did in the Giro. That was for me a really nice first grand tour that I finished and hopefully I can do it in the same way year in a Tour de France and also get a stage victory. That would be really nice,” Van der Poel said.
“The Giro was really nice in the last week, but for me, it’s really difficult to win a mountain stage. So, I just tried to race and see what was possible. I’ll try to have the same legs here in the third week and I can try something, but you have to feel good and see how it goes.”
There are some early opportunities for Van der Poel to try and take a stage win. If the wind picks up for Saturday’s stage between Roskilde and Nyborg when the pack crosses the Great Belt bridge, there could be enough carnage for Van der Poel to try and get one over on the pure sprinters.
However, the Dutchman is not sure that the conditions will be favorable to him and he may have to wait for stage 5, which sees the bunch tackle the cobbles.
“I think the second stage is really difficult for me to do something. They don’t really predict the winds where I could do something and it should be a bunch sprint,” he said. “I think the Roubaix stage will be the first time we going to see some differences again [in the GC], and then you never know what is possible, especially in a Roubaix stage. The bike also has to hold it until the finish line. I’m looking forward to that stage.”