There was a time when Alpecin-Fenix was thought of as just a Matheiu van der Poel vehicle, a squad built around the ridiculously talented Dutchman. 2021 proved that theory wrong, as Jasper Philipsen and Tim Merlier among others won as well, but it still lingers.
The message that there's more than Van der Poel hasn't quite trickled through to the other teams in professional cycling, as all eyes remain on the flying Dutchman. For good reason, obviously, as he remains one of the best riders in world cycling, capable of turning a race upside down at any moment.
However, this is incredibly beneficial to his teammates, as Stefano Oldani found out on stage 12 of the Giro d'Italia. Van der Poel and Oldani, along with a third Alpecin-Fenix rider in Oscar Riesebeek, all made the days break, and then made it count.
While the other 22 members of the escape were all looking at Van der Poel, as he did his usual thing of attacking and being visible, his Italian teammate had freedom. That meant when Lorenzo Rota (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert) attacked over the top of La Colletta, Oldani was allowed to follow, along with Gijs Leemreize (Jumbo-Visma).
All three had never won a race before, meaning no-one really knew what would happen when it came to the final sprint in Genoa. Oldani did not know either, apparently.
"I knew I was fast but it wasn't easy," he said. "Lorenzo Rota, who is my friend, is fast as well. So I watched out. The other guy, it was obvious that he would try and anticipate it. It was not so easy to manage, but in the end it looks like I did it.
"The presence of Mathieu van der Poel was crucial for me to make the 3-man final breakaway. We already knew that a lot of guys were watching Mathieu. Using three, we were the only team that had three, and we did it."
Numbers matter in a breakaway, as Alpecin-Fenix proved. They learned from their mistakes on stage eight around Napoli, where Van der Poel was up the road but couldn't make the decisive move. It was the numbers of Lotto-Soudal who won that day.
"It's hard to believe that my first pro victory arrives at the Giro d'Italia," Oldani said. "It's wonderful."
The 24-year-old might have taken a while to get off the mark, but clearly fits in well at an Alpecin-Fenix team he joined from Lotto-Soudal over the winter. With a win in his pocket, he can now continue to prove that the squad is more than just the Van der Poel show.
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