VAN DER POEL ADDS PINK TO HIS EVER-GROWING JERSEY COLLECTION
Whereas it took him until the second day to take the win at the jersey at the Tour, this time he struck even earlier, living up to his status as the stage favourite to take victory on the opening stage of the Giro d’Italia.
Despite being the favourite, Van der Poel had expressed his concern that the final climb might not be difficult enough for him, and so his Alpecin-Fenix team set about setting a fast pace early on its lower slopes. However, he arrived at the final few hundred metres with two very dangerous and potentially quicker finishes alongside him in Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Soudal) and Biniam Girmay (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Materiaux).
Victory was therefore far from certain, but the uphill incline of the finish, and the fatiguing effect the 5km of climbing had had on the riders (especially, it seemed, Ewan), saw the Dutchman charge past Girmay to take the win.
Despite drifting away a little earlier on the climb, it was pretty much a textbook ride from Van der Poel, his only mistake coming on the podium when he accidentally uncorked his victory prosecco bottle into his face.
He’ll now look to defend the pink jersey in tomorrow’s time trial stage. Although not a natural against the clock, he is able to produce a lot of power over such a short course, especially with the motivation of a pink jersey to defend. He also has a decent advantage over the strong time triallists of several seconds, thanks to the bonus seconds upon winning and a small split in the peloton.
CHILLING SENSE OF déjà vu AS EWAN CRASHES AGAIN
There was a chilling sense of déjà vu when Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Soudal) hit the deck on the finishing straight. The sight of him lying on the floor with his bike strewn across the road was uncannily similar to another crash of his on stage three of last year’s Tour de France. Then as now, he could be seen in the background while a rider in Alpecin-Fenix colours (that time Tim Merlier, this time Van der Poel) took victory in the foreground.
Thankfully, one way in which the incidents differed was that this time Ewan was able to soon get back up again and cross the line — albeit very gingerly.
He looked on the verge of tears as he crossed the line, and must have been experiencing an overwhelming combination of shock, pain, disappointment and fatigue at the huge effort he’d made to put himself in contention for the stage win.
He had ridden the climb superbly, positioning himself right at the front as the finish line approached, and following the wheel of a Bora-Hansgrohe rider when he accelerated. But the effort of the climb appeared to get to him eventually when he couldn’t match Van der Poel or Girmay’s accelerations, and fatigue may explain his mistake of clipping Girmay’s wheel and going down.
The ride nevertheless showed that he’s brought great form into this Giro, so it would be a huge shame if he’s suffered any significant injuries; or, worse still, has to abandon like at last year’s Tour. His jersey was torn at the left shoulder, but we’ll have to wait for the upcoming stages to see how badly he is hurt.
GIRMAY ALMOST MAKES HISTORY YET AGAIN
Van der Poel ultimately stole the headlines by defeating him for the stage win, but Biniam Girmay (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Materiaux) came close to completing yet another remarkable story in his rapid rise to stardom.
The Eritrean briefly led the race when he came past Magnus Cort (EF Education-EasyPost) about 150 metres from the line, and only Van der Poel denied him victory with an even quicker acceleration.
The posse of Eritrean fans that now follow him from race to race following his star-making victory at Gent-Wevelgem this spring were already in boisterous mood at the start of the race, so there’s no telling how wildly they would have celebrated had he taken the win and delivered the nation a pink jersey.
So what next for Girmay at this Giro? With its uphill finish of puncheur-friendly gradients, it’s possible that today’s stage suited him better than any other during the race, especially as he may tire deeper into what is his first ever Grand Tour.
But in the short term, there’s still an outside chance he could exchange the white jersey he won today as the race’s best young rider for the pink jersey. His ability against the clock is something of a mystery given his newness to the professional scene, but if he is able to limit his losses tomorrow, then the jersey could still be within reach via the bonus seconds on offer at the end of stage three, expected to be a bunch sprint.
On the basis of his performance today, Girmay is going to have some impact on his debut Grand Tour.
TOP GC CONTENDERS FINISH STAGE UNSCATHED
None of the GC riders were quite able to match the top puncheurs in the finale to fight for the stage win, but neither were any of them weak enough to lose any time.
Ineos Grenadiers rode a controlled final climb to position race favourite Richard Carapaz as well as possible, and the Ecuadorian impressed to finish sixth at the line.
That meant he gained a minor but morale-boosting four seconds over most of his rivals, aside from Pello Bilbao (Bahrain-Victorious) and Wilco Kelderman (Bora-Hansgrohe), who both delivered a great kick in the finale to place third and fifth respectively.
Most, including Simon Yates (BikeExchange), Mikel Landa (Bahrain-Victorious), Romain Bardet (Ag2r Citroën) and Tom Dumoulin (Jumbo-Visma) finished clustered together near the front, with Miguel Ángel López (Astana-Qazaqstan) a little further adrift but still finishing at the same time.
None of these finishes were especially surprising, but we might have expected Joao Almeida (UAE Team Emirates) not to have also finished in the split behind Carapaz. The Portuguese rider is usually one of the punchiest of the GC riders, and was considered a potential winner of the stage, so might be disappointed to instead place fourteenth.
We’ll learn more tomorrow about his and the other GC riders' form, but there were some tantalising, albeit far from conclusive, glimpses today.
CRASHES KEPT TO A MINUMUM, BUT OUTSIDERS STILL LOSE TIME
Aside from Caleb Ewan’s fall in the finale, crashes were thankfully not the story of today’s stage.
There was one nasty incident on the run-in to the final climb, and the two riders involved, Jan Tratnik (Bahrain-Victorious) and Harm Vanhoucke (Lotto-Soudal), were the last two riders to arrive at the finish, nine minutes after the bunch. But they were able to finish, as was every other rider who started,
The major favourites for the pink jersey all finished within four seconds of each other, but there were some outside names who lost more time, apparently suffering from worse form than might have been expected.
Thymen Arensman (DSM) had attracted some hype following his podium finish at the Tour of the Alps, but didn’t have those legs today, and lost 19 seconds to the leading group. The losses of Guillame Martin (Cofidis) and Pavel Sivakov (Ineos Grenadiers) were smaller, at only 12 seconds, but still indicates that they might not have the form to repeat the top 10 Grand Tour finishes they both have managed in the past.
The early signs are that British riders James Knox (Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl) and James Carr (EF Education-EasyPost) aren’t set to deliver surprise high finishes as they lost 19 and 28 seconds respectively, while David De La Cruz (UAE Team Emirates) surprisingly finished over a minute down.
The only top climber to lose more time than De la Cruz was Lennard Kämna (Bora-Hansgrohe), but his loss of 1-31 was down to an ambitious all-or-nothing attack he’s made earlier on the climb in a bid to win the stage, indicating that it’s stage wins rather than a high GC placing that he’s prioritising.
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