Van der Poel attacked to take bonus seconds on the first climb of Mur de Bretagne, then backed it up 14 kilometres later with a furious assault on the final ascent, taking the win and the yellow jersey after attacking with 800 metres remaining.
The star Dutchman ground his way to the line after his explosive attack and was strong enough to hold off an attack from the GC favourites, with Tadej Pogacar (UAE Team Emirates) and Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma) finishing second and third on the day with Kelderman in fourth, six seconds behind the rampant van der Poel.
Van der Poel was clearly emotional after the finish, collapsing after the line and celebrating from the ground, then without words to describe what he was feeling after the momentous victory.
“I have no words…” said van der Poel, stopping for some time before being able to answer.
“You can’t even plan something like this. I launched my first attack here with one to go, I kept going until I had those bonus seconds, my only and my last chance at this Tour to grab the yellow jersey. To finish it off like this, it’s incredible.
“The last 500 metres was really painful but I knew I had to keep on going just to get the gap. It wasn’t until five minutes after that I knew I had the yellow jersey."
Van der Poel completed a legacy inherited from his grandfather Raymond Poulidor, a perennial contender at the Tour de France who finished on the overall podium seven times but never wore the yellow jersey, a feat realised by his grandson atop the Mur de Bretagne. Van der Poel pointed to the sky as he crossed the line, and was asked post-race who he thought about as he crossed the line.
“My grandad of course,” said van der Poel. “Imagine if he was here, how proud he would be.”
Overnight leader Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-QuickStep) ceded the yellow jersey, but led the rest of the peloton over the line for fifth on the day and kept the lead in the points classification.
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At the start of the day's racing, mountains jersey Ide Schelling (BORA-hansgrohe), Anthony Perez (Cofidis), Edward Theuns (Trek-Segafredo), Jeremy Cabot (TotalEnergies), Jonas Koch (Wanty Groupe Gobert) and Australian Simon Clarke (Qhubeka-NextHash) made the early break after some initial skirmishing as the peloton rolled out from Perros-Guirec.
The battle between the mountains jersey holder and Perez was the highlight from the breakaway, with Perez showcasing his superior sprint to the top of the first climb but then Schelling hitting back with a gutsy long-range effort side-by-side with Perez, forcing his way over the second ascent as the victor.
Cooperation broke down between the escapees after that, with Theuns and Cabot setting off as a duo. Clarke attempted to follow, but crashed on a slippery descent and went back to the peloton along with the rest of the early break. Theuns was the last man caught after some late aggression as the teams of the big favourites led their leaders out into the first ascent of the Mur de Bretagne, which held bonus seconds of 8, 5 and 2 for the first three to ascend the climb.
Van der Poel launched a big attack on the steepest section of the first ascent, getting a decent gap quickly as the peloton simply increased the tempo in response. The cyclocross and mountain bike star was the first to crest the climb, but Pogacar jumped from the peloton to claim five bonus seconds with two seconds to his key rival Primoz Roglic.
The final climb saw INEOS Grenadiers lead the main bunch into the foot of the Mur de Bretagne. Xandro Meurisse (Alpecin-Fenix) and Davide Formolo (UAE Team Emirates) attacked as foils for their leaders, but the pace of Australian Richie Porte (INEOS) on the front saw them caught quickly.
Nairo Quintana (Arkea-Samsic) wound up a big attack on the steepest section but couldn't get a big gap. Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain Victorious) then made a surge off the front, with van der Poel following before attacking over the top himself and shooting clear at the head of affairs. Solo for 800 metres, van der Poel was able to hold on for the win as the GC favourites attacked from behind, securing the yellow jersey with the time he took on Alaphilippe.
Van der Poel will be handed a situation where he will be favoured to retain the yellow jersey until the Stage 5 time trial at least, with two days in the flatlands ahead.
The Tour de France continues tomorrow with Stage 3, which looks to be one for the pure sprinters with Aussie Caleb Ewan going in as the strong favourite. Watch on SBS, the SKODA Tour Tracker App and SBS On Demand from 8.30pm AEST with racing starting from 9.00pm AEST.