A host of equipment tweaks the night before had van der Poel sporting a very different set up going into the 27.2 kilometre circuit around Laval including a new helmet, skinsuit and cockpit along with wheels hand-delivered from Andorra after a 900 kilometre journey by a team employee.
The adjustments proved to make a big difference as van der Poel set a time of 32:31 for a fifth-place finish and an eight second advantage in GC on stage winner Tadej Pogačar (UAE Emirates) heading into tomorrow's journey from Tours to Châteauroux.
The 26-year-old gave the impression he is still very much soaking in the atmosphere of his first Tour appearance in what was a memorable day in the maillot jaune.
"I'll remember this day for a long time," van der Poel said.
"It's incredible, I didn't think it was possible but the mechanics worked on the time trial bike until midnight to try to help me be more aerodynamic.
"We changed the handlebars to get more aero, we raised them a bit, then, of course, we changed the helmet and wheels.
"I have to thank the team, everything turned out better than we even expected. The yellow jersey gave me wings, it was special riding through the crowds in this jersey."
In just his second individual time trial following a 25th place finish in stage 1 of the Tour de Suisse earlier this year, van der Poel revealed he was pleasantly surprised with his strong performance in Laval.
"The only time I did a TT was at the Tour de Suisse, so this is the second time, I didn't touch it before," he admitted.
"I really surprised myself in the TT but when I did the recon in the morning, I felt I could have a very big day. I knew I had the watts somewhere, it was just a matter of position.
"I really needed good legs too but there was also lots of encouragement along the route. The parcours also suited me and I felt strong, I can be proud of this one."
Looking ahead, van der Poel gave a frank assessment of his chances in yellow going forward, acknowledging the looming mountain stages would very likely see Pogačar overtake him in the GC battle.
"In the mountain stages, it's not realistic to keep the jersey against someone like Pogačar. I'm just really pleased to keep the jersey tomorrow," Van der Poel said.
"What Tadej did was amazing, I can only say 'chapeau' to him. I think Tadej could well go on to win the Tour in Paris. To win this TT as a GC rider is huge, he deserves it."
The Tour de France continues with Stage 6, a flat 160-kilometre stage from Tours to Châteauroux, a stage expected to finish with a bunch sprint. Watch the action on SBS, the SKODA Tour Tracker and SBS OnDemand from 2130 AEST.