BREST, France (Reuters) – Frenchman Raymond Poulidor stood on the Tour de France podium eight times without ever wearing the leader’s ‘Maillot Jaune’, but his Dutch grandson Mathieu van der Poel has an opportunity to set the family record straight in this year’s opening stage.
Van der Poel, whose father Adrie wore the yellow jersey for a day in 1984, is the hot favourite to win Saturday’s ride between Brest and Landerneau, which finishes at top of the short, yet brutal climb up to the Cote de la Fosse aux Loups.
Van der Poel, a four-time cyclocross world champion and a one-day race specialist, is well aware of the expectations weighing on his shoulders.
For the team’s presentation on Thursday, his Alpecin-Fenix outfit designed a special jersey inspired by the yellow and purple colours of Poulidor’s Mercier team shirt.
Van der Poel, the son of Poulidor’s daughter Corinne, paid tribute to his grandfather 45 years after the late rider took part in his 14th and final Tour.
“I wish I could have taken part in this Tour with granddad (still alive),” said the 26-year-old of the former rider nicknamed “Poupou”, a darling of the home fans who died in November 2019.
The profile of the first two stages suits Van der Poel down to the ground and while he is not among the overall race contenders, the Dutchman will be the man to beat, with France’s Julian Alaphilippe and Belgian Wout van Aert likely to be hot on his wheel.
“I don’t feel any particular pressure about it,” he said on Friday.
“Wearing the yellow jersey, whatever the circumstances, is an incredible opportunity. It is something exceptional and I know that the profile of the two stages suits me.
“I have an opportunity but it will not be easy to seize it. It will be an interesting day to follow from a strategic point of view. I know it’s going to be fast and I’ll do my best.”
Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme recalled Poulidor hailing his grandson’s talent five years ago.
“I am convinced he promised his granddad that he would wear the Maillot Jaune,”, Prudhomme said.
“It would be a beautiful story. I can still hear Raymond saying at his 80th birthday (in 2016): ‘Mathieu, Mathieu, he’s got incredible talent’. I thought it was the grandfather talking about his grandson, but it was the former champion talking about a new champion.”
Van der Poel, who is making his Tour debut at the same age as Poulidor, won the Tour of Flanders Monument classic last year as he developed into one of the most exciting prospects in road cycling.
His flamboyant style has made him a fan favourite and even French cycling supporters, usually loyal to their own riders, might get behind him when the Tour sets off in Brittany on Saturday.
(Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Toby Davis)