Mathieu van der Poel: ‘It won’t be easy to win the pink jersey’ at Giro d’Italia

The Dutch superstar is not sure he will be able to match the yellow jersey ‘dream’ of his dramatic and emotional Tour de France debut in 2021.

Photo: ANP via Getty Images

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BUDAPEST (VN) — Mathieu van der Poel admits it won’t be easy to power away with the pink jersey in his Giro d’Italia debut.

Friday’s 195km opening stage to Visegrád ends with an uphill kicker that looks ideal for a Van der Poel dream double of the stage victory and the first pink jersey of the 2022 Giro.

The Dutch star already inspected the finale, and didn’t come away sounding too confident.

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“It’s really steep, and there are a lot of advantages of staying in the bunch. It will be difficult to attack there,” Van der Poel said Wednesday. “It will be difficult to drop the sprinters like Caleb Ewan, so we will see who has the best legs to win the sprint.”

On paper, the final run to the finish — 5.5km at 4.2 percent — is ideal for puncheurs and has Van der Poel written all over it.

Yet Van der Poel, who is making his Giro debut Friday, said he’s not sure he will be able to match his yellow jersey “dream” of his dramatic and emotional Tour de France debut in 2021.

“We rode the finish today and I did the final climb,” he said. “I wanted to see the stage finish, but it’s not going to be easy to win. Also in last year’s Tour, the first stage suited me well, but I didn’t win it. It sounds easy, but it’s not always the case.

“It’s a pretty hard finish, but it’s hard to drop the fast guys, so it will be interesting in the end to see who has the fast sprint.”

Van der Poel headlines Alpecin-Fenix, which lost the services of Tim Merlier, who injured his elbow and will be sidelined.

The team won’t bring a GC option and instead will focus on trying to claim the pink jersey early, ride to set up its sprinters and put riders into breakaways.

In fact, all 10 of the team’s victories so far in 2022 have come from four of its sprinters, with van der Poel, Jasper Philipsen, and Merlier each winning three times, and Jakub Mareczko winning once.

“I’d like to wear the pink jersey, but it’s less big than the yellow dream, and the whole history,” he said. “For sure I will try to get win the pink jersey, but it’s not going to be easy.”

Van der Poel said one of his top goals is finishing both the Giro and Tour this year.

Last year, Van der Poel made a big splash in his grand tour debut at the Tour, when he won stage 2 and snatched the yellow jersey in an emotional victory dedicated to his grandfather Raymond Poulidor.

Van der Poel defended the jersey for five stages, and only ceded it to Tadej Pogačar in the Slovenian’s assault in the Alps. With one eye on the Olympic Games, he did not start the following day’s stage.

Flash forward to May, and Van der Poel is sounded determined to make it all the way to Verona.

“I will try to finish both the Giro and Tour this year, but it won’t be easy,” he said. “I hope to get there all the way to the end.

“I’ve never raced these big mountains before, so it’s a big question mark on how the body will feel. It will be nice to get through the Giro and see how the body will feel. Everyone says finishing a grand tour makes you stronger.”

Van der Poel said he hopes that his back pain that derailed his cyclocross season is in the rearview, but admitted that will be a big factor to see how deep he can ride in this Giro.

“I cannot answer that question right now, but I hope it will be OK,” he said of his back. “There are a lot of question marks for me in this Giro.

“It was an action-packed classics season, and after Roubaix, the recovery period wasn’t as long as perhaps I would have liked, but I am really happy to be here.”

He vows there won’t be a repeat of last year’s early Tour de France exit, and promises to finish the 2022 Giro d’Italia. Or at least go down swinging.

The Dutch star on Alpecin-Fenix is one of the main attractions in the 2022 Giro, and he promises to make the most of it. And part of that means going all the way to Verona when the Giro ends May 29 with an individual time trial.

“I have my own goals at the Giro and I am really looking forward to doing it,” he said. “I’ve always thought that the Giro is one of the coolest races to do, and I am happy to be here. It’s going to be a good experience to race in Italy as well.”

Van der Poel, 27, last raced at Paris-Roubaix, where he was ninth. In just 10 days of racing so far in 2022, he won three races, including the Tour of Flanders, and finished third at Milan-San Remo.

“I don’t start the Giro with the idea of winning the points jersey, but maybe it will turn out to be the case,” he said. “I don’t have the same pressure of last year, but that was different because it was an Olympics year.”

Mathieu van der Poel, shown here after Paris-Roubaix, vows to finish the Giro. (Photo: Luca Bettini – Pool/Getty Images)

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