VISEGRAD, Hungary –
Dutch cyclist Mathieu van der Poel won the opening stage of the Giro d’Italia on Friday and claimed the race’s first maglia rosa on his debut in the Italian grand Tour.
Van der Poel, who rides for Alpecin-Fenix, edged Eritrean cyclist Biniam Girmay at the end of a chaotic bunch sprint on the uphill finish to the citadel in Visegrad in the first of three stages in Hungary.
“I knew positioning was going to be the key to win,” Van der Poel said. “It 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 to the guys in front of me and at the final I just launched my sprint and it was pretty close because the legs were full of lactate, of course.”
He also won the Tour de France yellow jersey for six days after winning the second stage last year, in his only other grand tour.
“It’s incredible, after the yellow jersey to wear the pink now,” he said. “Now we will see what the time trial brings tomorrow. I’m going to try again, for sure. It will be difficult but I’m going to try.”
Pello Bilbao was third at the end of the undulating 195-kilometre route from Budapest.
Ottawa’s Alex Cataford was 70th, 52 seconds of the lead. The 28-year-old Israel Premier Tech rider is competing in his third straight Grand Tour race.
Caleb Ewan was fighting hard for the win but crashed with less than 200 meters remaining after touching Girmay’s back wheel.
Two Drone Hopper riders led the stage for most of the day after escaping shortly after the start. Italians Mattia Bias and Filippo Tagliani easily built a lead and had a maximum advantage of 11 minutes before the peloton started reeling them in.
They were caught with a little under 14 kilometres remaining and the stage sparked into life on the five-kilometre climb to the finish.
There were several attempts at an attack but the peloton managed to control them. Overall favourite Richard Carapaz finished sixth, with the same time as all those ahead of him, and he has already built a slender advantage on his main general classification rivals.
Saturday’s second stage is an individual time trial through Budapest, that also sees an uphill finish. There are peaks of 14 per cent in the first section toward the end of the nine-kilometre route.
Two years later than it was meant to be, it is the first time a grand tour has started in Hungary and the 14th time the Giro has started outside of Italy.
The Giro was due to start in Hungary in 2020 but the pandemic forced organizers to reschedule the race to October and move the start to Sicily.
The Giro finishes on May 29 in Verona.