After taking yellow with a win atop the Mur de Bretagne in stage 2, van der Poel gave it his all to thwart the attempts of Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) and Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) to topple him with his most recent ride in stage 7 leaving him completely exhausted.
But he couldn't prevent the climbing brilliance of Pogačar in the mountains, as the 2020 Tour champion put on a show to reclaim the maillot jaune while van der Poel struggled mightily on the slopes, not surprising considering his chances were low by his own omission.
Sitting back in the trailing group for most of the day, the Dutchman crossed the line 22 minutes behind stage winner Dylan Teuns (Bahrain Victorious) after being dropped on the Col de Romme, unable to handle the pace on the second of three category 1 climbs.
Having plummeted to 23rd in the GC rankings as a result, van der Poel acknowledged his Tour may be over by the first rest day as he looks ahead to the upcoming Tokyo Olympics where he will contest for gold in the mountain bike race.
“It was a strange stage. I could have survived a little bit longer and I felt ok going uphill so I’m pleased about that,” Van der Poel said.
“But I knew there was another climb coming up so I realised it wasn’t going to work out for me. It didn’t make any sense for me to continue fighting.”
“I’m enjoying this but I will have to discuss it with my team. I have other goals and on the rest day (Monday) we'll see if I might quit.
“I’m really happy with my Tour and it’s a success already. I’ve won a stage and worn the yellow jersey a lot longer than expected.”
While he didn't have any success in the race on the day, the Dutchman did produce a timeless moment as he handed his bidon to an ecstatic young fan on the side of the road, captured in a photo posted to his social media with the caption, "It all starts with a dream. Had an amazing 6 days wearing the yellow jersey, thank you for all your support!”
The Tour de France continues with Stage 9, a 145 kilometre stage from Cluses to Tignes, finishing atop the summit finish to the ski resort in Tignes. Watch the action on SBS, SBS On Demand and the SKODA Tour Trakcer from 2030 AEST.