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Giro d'Italia

Mathieu van der Poel on Giro d’Italia win: ‘There was no energy left to put the hands in the air’

Dutch superstar buries himself to deliver scintillating victory to open the 2022 Giro d'Italia with a bang.

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VISEGRAD, Hungary (VN) — How deep did Mathieu van der Poel have to dig to win the opening stage at the 2022 Giro d’Italia and snatch the pink jersey?

The Dutch superstar collapsed on the ground and couldn’t even celebrate one of the most spectacular and thrilling open stages in recent Giro history because he was wrapped so tight on the rivet.

“I didn’t have time to celebrate on the finish line because I had to dig so deep,” Van der Poel said. “There was no energy left to put the hands in the air.”

Van der Poel timed it just right in a tense, attack-laden final 5km climb to the Visegrád castle high above the Danube. The thousands of Hungarian fans that packed in around the finish line witnessed a thrilling battle to the tape.

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With the pink jersey on the line, Van der Poel and his Alpecin-Fenix teammates had to play the perfect tactics to fend off Biniam Girmay and a late-charging Pello Bilbao.

“A few times I got boxed in and I had to go around a few times to regain position, I lost a bit of energy,” he said. “I stayed calm as long as possible and I timed my sprint perfectly, so I am really happy about that.”

Timing was everything in the taut finale.

Early attacks were duly reeled in as the sprinter trains powered up the final kilometers on a steady grade of about four percent that put everyone to their limits.

Van der Poel uncorked his attack, and a desperately chasing Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Soudal) clipped wheels with Girmay and crashed out of contention. Team officials confirmed he will start Saturday’s time trial despite some cuts and scrapes.

Van der Poel was cold as ice as the attacks came fast and heavy, and the intensity only grew as they bunch neared the line.

“This was already my goal from a long time. A couple of months ago the idea started to grow to come to the Giro,” he said. “I knew the first stage would really suit me, and it’s really crazy that I managed to win today and I am really happy that I won.”

Mathieu van der Poel: ‘Today I knew it was a unique opportunity to do it’

Van der Poel celebrates pink. (Photo: LUCA BETTINI/AFP via Getty Images)

The Dutch superstar is used to having the pressure, and he said he actually felt less pressure compared to the emotional debut at the Tour de France in 2021.

“I’ve been in this situation a few times, and you kind of get used to it. I was really relaxed before the race. It was different than the Tour last year. I was really nervous and it was my grand tour. Today I knew it was a unique opportunity to do it and I am really happy that I managed to win.”

Van der Poel was back in a grand tour leader’s jersey but admitted the emotion was a bit less compared to the Tour last year when he took yellow in honor of his grandfather Raymond Poulidor, who had recently passed away.

“It was a unique opportunity for sure to get the jersey and I’m really happy to take the win today,” he said. “Yeah for sure 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, that’s why I started the Giro and it’s crazy to get it.”

Van der Poel said it was mission accomplished in this Giro and will celebrate the pink jersey before going into Saturday’s time trial in Budapest.

“Wearing a leader’s jersey in a grand tour is something special, not a lot of riders can say they have [achieved this]. This one is pretty high in the rankings,” he said. “This was my main goal and [for] the rest of the Giro I’ll try to go win another stage.

“I don’t know, for sure tomorrow I’m going to try to defend it but it’s going to be difficult. I managed in the Tour to do so and I’ll try to do it again tomorrow.”