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Pulling a wheelie on a time trial bike as he made his way into the Verona Arena for the final stage of the 2022 Giro d’Italia summed up Mathieu van der Poel’s 2022 Giro d’Italia perfectly: he had entertained and showed off all that he can do from the first kilometre until the last.
This wasn’t by any means the first wheelie of the weekend. 24 hours earlier, on the final, tough mountain test of stage 20, Van der Poel channeled his inner-Sagan and wheelied up the Fedaia, mobbed by tifosi as he rode one-wheeled up the incline. Pascal Eenkhoorn soon caught him on the climb, carrying a giant Colombian flag, draping it over Van der Poel. His compatriot smiled, having found an accomplice who was also here for the pure thrill of it, enthralled in the pure spectacle of it all.
Because that is what Van der Poel is. A complete and utter spectacle. A phenomenon. Whatever words you want to conjure up out of the thesaurus, use them sparingly as by the end of his racing days we’ll have run out of ways to describe the Dutchman.
His debut Giro d’Italia began in much the same way as his debut Grand Tour last year in France, with a stage win in the first few days and a leader’s jersey. He climbed off at the Tour after a week of racing but he stuck it out in Italy, completing a three-week stage race the latest progression in a career that will eventually leave few stones unturned.
Of course, as well as a stage win, maglia rosa, and countless doomed if not captivating breakaway appearances, Van der Poel became a meme this Giro.
The whole crusade against Italian culture was some lighthearted relief amidst the stress of professional racing. Of course, Van der Poel’s opening day victory bought the space with which to express himself, allowed some fun as everyone else strived to also cross the finish line first.
From first to last, the Alpecin-Fenix man then had the final laugh in the internet culture war he helped create, posting a final image of him enjoying a pineapple pizza post-stage 21.
This was then followed up by the Giro d’Italia social media team honouring Van der Poel’s commitment to the bit by disregarding their bet that they would eat a Hawaiin pizza but only if the rider won another stage. They decided the Dutchman taking home the super combativity prize was enough for them to forsake their homeland.
That was it, Van der Poel’s Giro d’Italia. He will now head to an altitude camp, missing the Dutch national championships, in order to prepare for the Tour de France. If his first two Grand Tour appearances are anything to go by, buckle up in preparation for his third.