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Giro d'Italia

Mathieu van der Poel defends Giro d’Italia lead: ‘Better than I expected’

Dutch star nearly wins a second straight stage to defend pink, but admits he will lose it on Mount Etna.

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BUDAPEST (VN) — There’s no stopping Mathieu Van der Poel when he smells a finish line.

The Dutch star started the Giro d’Italia stage 2 time trial in last place wearing the pink jersey, and his mission was to end the short but intense 9.2km time trial with it still on his back.

He lived up to his end of the pink jersey bargain, but nearly came up a winner for the second day in a row.

“Maybe the best time trialists are not here, but I knew it would be really good to keep the jersey. That was the big goal, but to be this close to the victory was better than I expected,” he said. “It’s something I don’t really spend a lot of time on, so I can be happy.”

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Barely 24 hours after blazing to victory in a dramatic uphill sprint, Van der Poel powered up to the Budapest Castle high above the Danube to nearly win the stage.

Only a surprising Simon Yates could fend him off for the win by three seconds.

“I think could do a bit better maybe, but that’s always easy to say afterwards,” he said. “Especially in the beginning I went a bit too easy, and I didn’t want to too many risks in the corners.”

With a 14-second head start to Yates, Van der Poel also had to make sure he was ahead of such riders as Biniam Girmay and Magnus Cort, but only a superb Yates could fend off the rapid Van der Poel.

Van der Poel powered through the technical, urban course, and was equal with Yates at the intermediate check.

Having the time references to his rivals helped, and he was able to pace himself on the final section of the course that climbed up a narrow road lined with thousands of cheering fans.

“I had the headphones in but I couldn’t hear anything because of all the crowds,” he said. “I knew what I had to do, so I did my best.”

It was a wall of sound at the Dutch star roared to the line to defend pink.

“It was pretty special to ride in the pink jersey, there was a lot of fans yesterday and today again,” he said. “The time trial was something that suits me pretty well. I though it was possible to keep the jersey and I believed in it more than at the Tour de France time trial. So I am happy I can wear the jersey in a normal stage tomorrow.”

On a short, power course like this one, it should be no surprise to see Van der Poel doing so well.

Yet he even surprised himself when he was five seconds faster than Tom Dumoulin (Jumbo-Visma), who stopped the clock for third.

With a sprint stage Wednesday, Van der Poel will at least carry the jersey back to Italy ahead of Tuesday’s summit finish on Mount Etna.

Even he admitted there are limits to his powers.

“Tomorrow I do the leadout Mareszko, who is our sprinter here,” he said. “Normally until Etna it will be possible, but there I think I will lose it.”