Mathieu van der Poel rode a fascinating, albeit unsuccessful, race on stage 17 of the Giro d'Italia, testing his climbing capabilities as he is set to complete the first full Grand Tour of his career.
Up Monterovere, a 7.9km long ascent at a 9.9% average gradient and the final climb of the race, Van der Poel attacked from Gijs Leemreize (Jumbo-Visma). At first the audacious move seemed like it would prove successful, but Leemreize fought back, before stage winner Santiago Buitrago (Bahrain-Victorious) overtook them both.
As Van der Poel described after the race, he ultimately didn't have the legs to hold on with his solo attack.
“It was a bit of an all or nothing attempt in the hope that Gijs would break and in the hope that I would get a gap," Van der Poel said. "But he kept pushing all the time. I tried to make the gap for the steepest part and survive with my attack, but that was a bit too optimistic. Other than that it was a good day.
"At the moment there is a bit of disappointment, because at a certain moment I believed in the stage victory.
"But at the end I was really struggling, and I also heard through my ear that Buitrago was getting closer. When he went over me, I really couldn't take it anymore, I had lactate up to my ears, so there was no more in it then. He was clearly stronger in the end, so I can live with that. After that climb I had the hope that I could get it back, but that didn't work anymore."
Van der Poel eventually ended up finishing twelfth on stage 17, blowing up on the final ascent as superior climbers powered past him. Despite this, the Dutchman implied after the race that he never intended to join the breakaway and attack in the manner that he did.
"Was this the plan? No, not really," Van der Poel admitted. "The pace on the first climb was very high and we drove away with a nice group. From then on the feeling was good and it went quite well uphill.
“I do surprise myself. Yesterday (Wednesday) I was able to save a little and that turned out well today (Thursday). This is how I choose my days and tackle this Giro.”
While he said he felt good during the race, Van der Poel has simply never been in this position before. After all, he is competing in just the second Grand Tour of his career, and at his last attempt, he only completed eight stages at the Tour de France last year before abandoning.
Perhaps the 27-year-old is simply testing the standard he can ride to after nearly three full weeks of racing, and whether it matches a similar level we have become so accustomed to during the Classics. Competitive racing will also arguably put himself in a strong condition heading into the Tour this July.
Having spent three stages of this year's Giro wearing the maglia rosa and six of the eight stages he completed at the Tour in 2021 in the yellow jersey, we've got a feeling that this Giro might be a test run, with the Alpecin-Fenix rider hoping to showcase stronger form later on in the summer.
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Ryan is a staff writer for Cycling Weekly, having joined the team in September 2021. He first joined Future in December 2020, working across FourFourTwo, Golf Monthly, Rugby World and Advnture's websites, before making his way to cycling. After graduating from Cardiff University with a degree in Journalism and Communications, Ryan earned a NCTJ qualification to further develop as a writer.
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