The British rider was forced to withdraw 48 hours before the race because of illness, leaving Poels without his usual leader.
“For me it was a disappointment not to ride my first race with him because I’m aiming for the Tour de France with him – but on the other hand, it was an opportunity to lead the team and it was good that I could win today,” Poels said. “Chris will be happy for me because we did a lot of training together this year.”
Poels attacked near the top of the final climb to Crispiero and held his advantage to win solo in Castelraimondo. He expected to be working hard this week in Italy, but for Froome and not himself.
The Dutchman signed for Team Sky from Omega Pharma and immediately became close friends with Froome after the first team camp in Majorca this winter. Froome then invited Poels to train with him at altitude in the secluded mountains of South Africa, where they spent two weeks alone with just one Sky carer and monkeys for company.
Poels said that everything about the team, including a successful 2015 start and a familiarity with the English language, is rubbing off.
“When you are in a good mood in the team and you see your team-mates winning, then you also want to win yourself. I was lucky today, but I also tried hard this winter and went to altitude training for the first time in my life. Sky is making me a better rider,” continued Poels.
“My English is improving, thanks to Chris. When we were in South Africa, I didn’t have any DVDs to watch, so he loaned me the entire Big Bang Theory series. From that American show, without subtitles, I learnt English.”
Poels is quickly repaying his team and his leader, who caught heat from the race organiser for his last-minute withdrawal on Monday. He rode Sky to victory today and left behind almost all of cycling’s top grand tour stars. Rigoberto Uran (Etixx-Quick Step) placed second, Joaquím Rodríguez (Katusha) third, Nairo Quintana (Movistar) eighth, Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) 11th and Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) 21st.
The Dutch rider now holds the blue overall jersey with 17 seconds on Uran and 32 seconds on last year’s winner, Contador. Tomorrow, the group will face the queen stage, which ends with a 16.1-kilometre climb up Monte Terminillo.
“I’m in really good shape, and normally long climbs are not bad for me,” added Poels. “I’m really confident to defend the jersey and to keep it.”