Mathieu van der Poel returned to road racing with a bang at the Tour de Suisse 2021, attacking after the final climb and putting in an explosive sprint to beat Max Schachmann to the line.
Van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) limited his losses on the final climb of the day as the likes of Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck – Quick-Step) attacked, before then managing to bridge back on and kick on the flat in the final 3km.
The Dutch champion took his fifth win of the season in the pouring rain and lightning after a very attacking stage. The rest of the stage podium was made up of Schachmann (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Wout Poels (Bahrain Victorious).
Stefan Küng (Groupama-FDJ) held onto the yellow jersey by one second over Alaphilippe.
How it happened
The day started in the town of Neuhausen am Rheinfall before heading over 178km before finishing in Lachen after tackling three punchy climbs.
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A four-man break went away with two Swiss riders and two Canadian riders. Those riders were Claudio Imhoff (Switzerland), Tom Bohli (Cofidis), Matteo Dal-Cin and Nickolas Zukowsky (both Rally).
They held a maximum gap of around seven minutes on the chasing peloton which was led for much of the day by Groupama-FDJ with the Swiss national champion, Küng, in the yellow jersey.
Alpecin-Fenix, Astana-Premier Tech, EF Education-Nippo and Deceuninck – Quick-Step eventually came up to chase with Groupama-FDJ at 60km to go as the weather completely changed after the first climb, with sunny skies turning to heavy rain.
Zukowsky was dropped with 48km to go after getting hit by an intense cramp for a moment. Fortunately for the Rally rider, he did manage to drag himself back after taking a bottle from his team car.
Van der Poel tried to go off the front over the second climb of the day but Küng followed along with Marc Hirschi (UAE Team Emirates) and Alaphilippe but the Dutch champion, Van der Poel, was dragged back as the lightning flashed around them.
Meanwhile, in the break, the rain had stopped as Bohli kicked on after taking the KOM points on the second climb with Imhoff hitting the two Rally riders with 35km to go. Imhoff did make it across to Bohli, dropping both Rally riders.
The peloton split on the descent with multiple large groups forming with some riders such as John Degenkolb (Lotto-Soudal) getting caught out. The pace was being kept very high by Alpecin-Fenix and Team BikeExchange with 26km to go, but the gap to the two leaders was still just over two minutes.
Dal-Cin and Zukowsky were caught with 20km to go by the first peloton who continued to hammer the pace along with the gap to Imhoff and Bohli, not losing much time. Imhoff used a bit of a kick in the road to drop Bohli before the final climb as the gap to the peloton dropped inside a minute.
Bohli was caught by the break with 16km to go with BikeExchange continuing the very high pace for their leaders. The rain returned in a big way for the descent towards the final climb of the day.
Alpecin-Fenix and Ineos Grenadiers both moved up for the start of the final climb as Deceuninck – Quick-Step were the first to really up the pace for Alaphilippe. This immediately brought Imhoff back with 9km to go.
Eddie Dunbar (Ineos Grenadiers) and Michael Woods (Israel Start-Up Nation) were the first to really kick but they didn’t get far. Alaphilippe then kicked hard with 7.6km to go, Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers), Iván García (Movistar), Schachmann and Woods all stayed with the world champion.
Jakob Fuglsang (Astana-Premier Tech) and Van der Poel both made it across before being dropped again along with García as Woods and Alaphilippe continued to put in attacks. Van der Poel and co. rejoined with Poels and Hirschi both joined too over the top of the climb with 6km to go.
Küng was unable to follow and was in a chasing group that included Esteban Chaves and Michael Matthews (both BikeExchange).
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Van der Poel then decided to attack himself with 3.3km to go, as Fuglsang tried to follow with Poel staying with the Danish rider. Schachmann was the next man to kick hard to bridge too, this dropped the rest inside the last 3km.
Carapaz was the next to kick out of the chasing group. Schachmann managed to bridge to Van der Poel and sat on the Dutch champion’s wheel before taking a turn with 1.3km to go. The two-time winner of Paris-Nice, Schachmann led under the flamme rouge with Van der Poel sat on his wheel.
The two leaders started to look at each other which meant that Poel and the rest almost caught up, but Schachmann decided to try an early move with 500 metres to go.
Van der Poel responded quickly and kicked around the German with his trademark vicious acceleration to take the stage and even put a one-second gap into Schachmann.
In the end, the leader’s jersey stayed with Küng by just one second over Alaphilippe, the Swiss road race champion will be hoping he can hang onto yellow after stage three, which should suit him more with a 182.1km stage from Lachen to Pfaffnau.
The stage is down as a sprinters day and it could well be just that but some tricky short climbs in the final third of the day may cause some issues for the fast men.
Tour de Suisse stage two, Neuhausen am Rheinfall to Lachen (178km)
1. Mathieu van der Poel (Ned) Alpecin-Fenix, in 4-12-30
2. Max Schachmann (Ger) Bora-Hansgrohe, at 1 second
3. Wout Poels (Ned) Bahrain Victorious, at 3s
4. Iván García (Esp) Movistar Team, at 4s
5. Marc Hirschi (Sui) UAE Team Emirates
6. Richard Carapaz (Ecu) Ineos Grenadiers
7. Michael Woods (Can) Israel Start-Up Nation
8. Julian Alaphilippe (Fra) Deceuninck – Quick-Step
9. Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Astana-Premier Tech, all at same time
10. Andreas Kron (Den) Lotto-Soudal, at 9s.
General classification after stage two
1. Stefan Küng (Sui) Groupama-FDJ, in 4-24-52
2. Julian Alaphilippe (Fra) Deceuninck – Quick-Step, at 1 second
3. Max Schachmann (Ger) Bora-Hansgrohe, at 2s
4. Mathieu van der Poel (Ned) Alpecin-Fenix, at 6s
5. Mattia Cattaneo (Ita) Deceuninck – Quick-Step, at 12s
6. Richard Carapaz (Ecu) Ineos Grenadiers, at 13s
7. Neilson Powless (USA) EF Education-Nippo, at 25s
8. Gino Mäder (Sui) Bahrain Victorious, at 30s
9. Andreas Kron (Den) Lotto-Soudal, at 33s
10. Gonzalo Serrano (Esp) Movistar Team, at 34s.