All talk was on who would take the first yellow jersey of this year’s Grande Boucle. Would French dreams come true with the World Champion taking victory? Would it be a stage win for one of the cyclo-cross stars? Headlines were eventually made when Alaphilippe crossed the finish line on the opening day, making touching tribute to his young child, and when Van der Poel dedicated his emotional win to his grandfather in stage two: the late Raymond Poulidor.
What wasn’t expected ahead of the race, however, was the intricate sub-plot that came before Van der Poel's exhibition on the Mûr-de-Bretagne.
Bora–Hansgrohe rider Ide Schelling is in his first ever Tour de France, and he’s grabbing this opportunity with some impressive gusto. Some debutants may feel wary of the three tough weeks of racing coming up, keen to reserve energy and stick in the wheels; keep a low profile, perhaps, and simply aim to finish such a difficult race.
It’s become clear that riding conservatively isn’t in Schelling’s repertoire, though. In stage 1, he catapulted himself into the breakaway as part of a 6-man group. The Dutchman was challenged on the first ascent of the day for the KOM points by Cofidis rider Anthony Perez and this was the start of an almighty battle between the two riders. In a close sprint for the first points, Perez came out on top.
Schelling wasn’t going to leave it to chance again, though, and went long for the second KOM of the day, attacking his breakaway companions before they were even halfway up the Côte de Saint-Rivoal. Crashes caused trouble for the peloton behind, but Schelling was safe out there alone, his adventure rewarded with a spotty jersey to wear during the second day of the race.
Keeping the jersey on his shoulders was another challenge for the Dutchman on stage two, though, as Anthony Perez was out with a vengeance. Perez once again took the points over the first climb of the day, putting himself in the virtual lead of the classification. At KOM point number two, the Côte de Saint-Brieuc, it was a much tighter affair between the two rivals.
Schelling in the break. Photo: Michael Steele/Getty Images
Perez went early, attacking Schelling on the lower slopes of the climb but the Bora rider was able to close the gap. As they approached the sprint point, a full-gas drag race ensued, both riders grimacing with the effort, throwing their bikes from side to side in a sprint which, without context, could have certainly looked like one for a stage win.
Schelling crossed the finish line first when it eventually came, and he celebrated with surprising glee. He’d secured one solitary point, but, for him, his race was won: the polka dots belonged to him for another day. The 23-year-old’s battle with Anthony Perez gave fans some real interest in the early stages of the race, which might sometimes be a dull procession before fireworks at the finish. Van der Poel’s attacks in the closing stages were heralded for animating the race, but Schelling’s fight for the KOM points should arguably be given an equal amount of credit: his gusty ride is a sign of his tenacious character as well as physical strength.
So where has this spirited Dutch rider come from? Schelling’s performances have been notably impressive for a rider so early in their career: he was 4th in Brabantse Pijl and 5th overall in the Baloise Belgium Tour earlier this season. In the U23 ranks, Schelling also had a liking for the polka dots, winning the KOM jersey in the Tour de l’Avenir with some attacking rides, gaining himself plenty of French fans in the process.
Schelling has often spoken about his aims to have fun whilst racing, one of the reasons why he participated in fixed gear events like Red Hook Crit whilst competing at the highest level on the U23 scene for SEG racing. His performance so far at the Tour highlights this, too. He’s riding with youthful exuberance, soaking up his experience and giving fans something to cheer for in the process.
Schelling’s hell for leather assault at the KOM jersey competition only, once again, confirms the unique and special qualities of the Tour de France. There is no other race in the professional cycling calendar in which a jersey is so prestigious. Schelling has no chance to win the KOM jersey overall, it will likely go to a GC contender once the race hits the high mountains.
But to wear a jersey in Le Tour — that is something worth fighting for, and makes for great racing in the process.