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Giro d'Italia

Giro d’Italia: Taco van der Hoorn’s underdog win is what makes cycling great

Underdog victories reaffirm our love for cycling and make us believe that anything is possible.

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Everyone loves a good underdog story, right?

Then there isn’t one as good as Taco van der Hoorn and his against-the-odds victory Monday in Canale on stage 3 of the Giro d’Italia.

Nobody, especially Peter Sagan and the Bora-Hansgrohe team, thought the flying Dutchman was going to hold off a peloton that was determined on contesting a sprint finish.

“After the finish, I was thinking: ‘Is this real?’ I didn’t believe when we had one minute with 25k. I just think that half-percent it’s enough chance and I just take it,” van der Hoorn said before stepping out on the podium to collect his prizes.

Also read: Who is Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux?

It was hard not to feel emotional while watching van der Hoorn celebrate at the finish, hand over his mouth as he tried to absorb just what he’d managed to achieve while the peloton loomed menacingly over his shoulder.

Some may even have had a tear in their eye. Who can blame them?

His victory was such that many of those beyond the line in Canale, even from outside his own team, broke into cheers as he rolled over the line.

That van der Hoorn had come close to retiring on two occasions — once in 2017 due to a serious concussion and again over this winter as he struggled to find a contract — only added to the fairytale.

“My career was hanging by a thread then,” van der Hoorn said of 2017. “It was also the case at the end of last season when I was without a contract. But, I persisted and I finally received my chance at Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux.

“A win took a long time coming for us, and now we have it. We deserved it.”

It is the story of a man who never gave up, despite the odds being stacked against him, only to find success on the biggest stage.

A little bit of ourselves

We all love to watch the best sprinters, climbers and classics riders do what they do best. There is a thrill in watching riders at the top of their game duke it out for the sport’s biggest prizes.

But it’s in those moments, the rare opportunity when an unexpected rider can read between the lines of a script and write their own story, that are truly memorable. That’s what van der Hoorn did Monday with his do-or-die attack.

It is days like Monday that make the sport of cycling so beautiful, and the fact that they’re so rare also means they’re even more special. Fans rarely agree on anything, but the success of an underdog is one of the few things that really unites us.

It’s no surprise that Mat Hayman’s victory at Paris-Roubaix is considered one of the best editions of the legendary race – because nobody expected it. The shock and surprise on his face, like with van der Hoorn, just adds to the moment.

Who can say that they did not cheer on Ian Stannard as he took on three, yes three, Etixx-Quick-Step riders — Tom Boonen, Niki Terpstra and Stijn Vandenbergh — at the 2015 Omloop Het Niewsblad, or Mads Pederson storming to a world championship title in Yorkshire in 2019.

Also read: 2021 Giro d’Italia stage 3: Taco van der Hoorn solos to narrow win from an all-day break

In a way, I think it is because we can see a little of ourselves in these underdogs. We cannot all be the Tadej Pogačars and Annemiek van Vleutens of this world romping to success on a whim.

Actress Kate Beckinsale once said: “Everybody likes the underdog, because everybody feels like the underdog.”

Seeing a rider like van der Hoorn succeed gives us all a little bit of hope that if we keep plugging away, then we too can find success, even if it is against the odds.

Cycling is full of riders who know they will never be the next Peter Sagan or Anna van der Breggen, but keep doing the hard yards because they love it and because they believe that one day they can enjoy their moment in the sun.

Those days are few and far between in a sport as brutal and unforgiving as cycling, but when the magic happens, it further reaffirms our love for the sport and makes us believe that anything is possible.