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Tour de France

Mathieu van der Poel wins yellow jersey for ‘grandpa Poulidor’

Dutch star dedicates yellow jersey to grandfather Raymond Poulidor, the French cycling hero who never wore the ‘maillot jaune.’

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Pou-Pou finally will have his yellow jersey.

Raymond Poulidor, nicknamed “Pou-Pou” by adoring French fans who cheered his indomitable spirit, finished eight times on the Tour de France podium, yet famously never won it.

And perhaps even more surprisingly, despite winning seven stages, Poulidor never wore the treasured yellow tunic in the 14 Tours he started in his storied career.

Also read: Poulidor, the last of the black-and-white heroes

Flash-forward to Sunday on the Mur de Bretagne and Poulidor will don the yellow jersey, at least in spirit, and by extension in DNA.

His grandson, Mathieu van der Poel, made sure of that.

Van der Poel pointed to the heavens and collapsed into tears after riding the entire peloton off his wheel Sunday. He was racing just as much for his own glory as he was for Poulidor, who died in November 2019 at 83 years old.

“It’s for you, grand père,” said van der Poel, referring to his grandfather. “It’s quite unbelievable.”

Cycling quite literally runs in van der Poel’s DNA. Poulidor is van der Poel’s grandfather from his mother, who married ex-Dutch pro Adrie van der Poel.

Racing is a family affair inside the tightly knit van der Poel household. After retiring, Poulidor proudly watched as his grandsons, Mathieu and David, grow up racing to carry on the family tradition.

After falling short of victory Saturday, Van der Poel could only muster 20th in stage 1 against an unstoppable Julian Alaphilippe. Determined to win because he knew it was his last chance to take yellow, van der Poel uncorked an attack on the first passage up the Mûr de Bretagne.

Why? Ten bonus seconds were waiting at the top.

“It was my last chance to get it,” van der Poel said of yellow. “I went for the first time bonuses and I knew I had to win the stage. Not only win the stage, but I had to have a small gap.”

Van der Poel attacked a second time, coming over the top of Ineos Grenadiers, and powered clear of Alaphilippe enough to win the stage and claim yellow.

His gift was complete.

Julian Alaphilippe congratulates Matthieu van der Poel on his 2021 Tour de France stage 3 victory.
Julian Alaphilippe congratulates Matthieu van der Poel on his 2021 Tour de France stage 3 victory. Photo: Daniel Cole – Pool/Getty Images

“I can dream of a scenario like this, but that it worked out, to make it come true is even more unbelievable,” van der Poel said.

Poulidor never saw his grandson race in the Tour de France. Van der Poel finally made his Tour debut this year, about 18 months following Poulidor’s death.

“I wish my grandfather was here today,” van der Poel said in tears. “It would have been nice to take a photo together, he in his Crédit Lyonnais shirt, and me in the yellow jersey.”

Van der Poel knew Sunday presented his best and last chance for yellow. Monday and Tuesday favor the sprinters, and then Wednesday sees the individual time trial.

Also read: Alpecin-Fenix unveils retro-look Tour de France kit

Now that he’s in yellow, van der Poel just wants to soak up the moment.

“I can imagine I can keep it until the TT,” he said. “I hope to be able to arrive to Paris. The green jersey is not a goal because it would require too much effort. I want to be able to leave the Tour and go straight to Tokyo and try to win in mountain biking.”

Poulidor raced against the greats, from Jacques Anquetil to Eddy Merckx, and his career was marked by eternal close calls and near-misses with two of the Tour’s five-time winners.

A poster of Raymond Poulidor at the Tour de France.
A poster of Raymond Poulidor at the Tour de France. Photo: Michael Steele/Getty Images

As the son of farmers, Poulidor’s early career rivalry with Jacques Anquetil represented the struggle between the rural and the urbane as France moved into the post-war years.

After retiring, Poulidor became a presence on the Tour de France caravan each summer as a VIP guest for the yellow-jersey sponsor, Crédit Lyonnais. Each morning in the start village, Poulidor would patiently pose for pictures and sign autographs for generations of cycling fans, both young and old.

Van der Poel couldn’t check his emotion, just like he couldn’t hold back his drive to win.

“The emotion overcame me when they told me 100 percent that I had the yellow jersey,” he said. “It’s a special year for me, to be here in the yellow jersey in my first Tour de France. I can only imagine if he were here to share it with me.”