Mathieu van der Poel has ruled himself out as a favourite to win the opening time trial of the 2022 Tour de France - but is targeting yellow for the second successive year in the ensuing days.
The Alpecin-Deceuninck rider is viewed as one of multiple potential winners around the flat, but technical 13km course in the Danish capital of Copenhagen, although the 27-year-old is instead planning on using the time trial as a stepping stone towards yellow.
Stages two to four should favour the sprinters, but if the wind blows or the racing is aggressive, it opens up the opportunities for rouleurs and punchier riders like Van der Poel to stake a claim for the race leadership. Stage five then sees the peloton take on a selection of Paris-Roubaix cobbles.
Van der Poel told reporters ahead of the start: “I have to see where I will be against the specialists in the TT - if I lose 10-15 seconds, which would be a really good performance, maybe I can try something in the days after. Maybe until the Roubaix stage it will be possible [to claim yellow]. You never know. The time trial hurts anyway so you have to go all in and see what I can do.”
Ineos Grenadiers’ Filippo Ganna is the overwhelming favourite to take the race’s first yellow jersey of the Tour, and Van der Poel admitted that being able to go head-to-head with riders of his ilk in their preferred discipline is a difficult task.
“It’s beginning to look a little like Formula One in some aspects - it’s really something special,” he said about the advancements in time trialling. “You have to have the best tech, the best aero position to even have a chance of winning. Power output alone is not enough anymore. It also makes it quite a cool aspect of the sport.
“Of course I have the power to do it, and it means [I’ve had] top-10s a lot of the time, but to really be amongst the best you have to get the marginal gains. It really means a whole year of working and having the ultimate aero position, and it’s not really the case in my set-up now.
“Along the way I have made a few steps to get better, and I showed that already in some of my results, but to really beat the specialists is not something I believe in.
“But tomorrow if I can put myself in the top-10, maybe something will be possible the day after and I can still try and get the yellow jersey this year. But it will be more difficult than last year.”
The Dutchman added that he has yet to feel any noticeable performance advantages having ridden the entire Giro d’Italia, but that he will aim to be part of as many large breakaways as possible, just as he was in Italy.
He reiterated that he will not be targeting the green jersey, instead putting his energies into winning a stage, adding that his condition is similar to how he started the Giro as he once again looks to complete the entire Grand Tour. “The only difference is that maybe I have more race days in my legs,” he said. “It’s difficult for me to win a mountain stage [in the third week], so I will try and race and see what is possible. I hope to have the same legs here in the third week and try something. You have to feel good.”
The threat of Covid hangs over the race, with a handful of riders and sports directors across multiple teams testing positive on the eve of the Grand Départ. Van der Poel isn’t fearful, but he’s aware of its risks of entering the peloton.
“I haven’t got it yet,” he said, “not even in the beginning [of the pandemic], and I hope not to get it here. I’m not afraid of it, we can’t control it. You can do everything perfect if you want off the bike, but then you get put in a peloton with 180 other guys. It’s really difficult to control.”
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