'It really hurt' — Mathieu van der Poel on his first Giro d'Italia stage win

Dutchman leads race after stage one in Hungary

Mathieu van der Poel
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Mathieu van der Poel is a man used to winning. The Dutchman had already done it three times in just 10 race days this season, including at the Tour of Flanders a month ago.

However, he had never raced the Giro d'Italia before. He came into stage one of the Corsa Rosa as the overwhelming favourite for the punchy finish up to Visregárd, although it was unclear if it would be too hard for even as multi-talented a rider as Van der Poel.

Yet he delivered. With an astonishing burst of power with about 100m to go, the Alpecin-Fenix rider came from seemingly nowhere to storm to victory ahead of Biniam Girmay.

It was tough though. The Dutchman admitted after the finish that "it really hurt". He did not even get a chance to raise his arms off his bars as he crossed the line in first.

"It’s pretty special," he said. "I didn’t have a chance to celebrate on the finish line because I had to dig so deep, but yeah for sure I’m going to realise it in a few hours for sure, and then enjoy it with the team tonight."

After his success at the Tour de France last year, where he wore the yellow jersey for six days after winning stage two, this felt almost inevitable, although Van der Poel did have to come from a long way back to triumph.

"I knew positioning was going to be the key to win today," he explained. "That was a bit difficult sometimes, I got boxed in a few times on the final climb. It cost a lot of energy to catch up with the guys in front of me. At the final I just launched my sprint and I was pretty close because the legs were full of lactic acid of course, but I’m really happy."

As a result of his win, he became only the 16th active rider to have claimed a leader's jersey in at least two of the Grand Tours. His grandfather, Raymond Poulidor, never wore the maillot jaune at the Tour, despite finishing on the podium eight times, and never raced the Giro. Meanwhile, his father Adrie van der Poel wore the yellow jersey once, but never the maglia rosa.

"It’s pretty cool, it was a unique opportunity for sure to get the jersey," Van der Poel said. "The yellow one was maybe even more special with the family history behind it, but this jersey was also one of my big goals this year. It is crazy to get it. Wearing a leader’s jersey in a grand tour is special, not a lot of riders can say that, this one is pretty high in the ranking."

On a reasonably dull day in Hungary, he managed to marshal his reserves to perfection, holding enough back for that final climb.

"It was a really easy stage until the last 20km I think," he said, saying what all viewers watching thought. "Everyone was still pretty fresh. It was really hard to hold the position, but I’m glad I managed it."

Tomorrow is a time trial, not the preferred discipline for Van der Poel, but one that he has performed ably in before. At just 9.2km, it might not pose too many questions, but he could still lose out to a TT specialist.

At last year's Tour, the Alpecin rider produced the race against the clock of his life to finish fifth and hang onto the overall lead, so it is not out of the question.

"I hope so, for sure I’m going to try," he said when asked if he had a chance of remaining in pink after tomorrow. "Also in the Tour I didn’t expect to hold onto yellow after the time trial, so I will try to surprise myself again tomorrow.

"I’m going to try again for sure, just like in the Tour it’s going to be difficult."

If there is one thing we all know about Van der Poel, it is that he will try. We might be surprised ourselves tomorrow.

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