Mathieu van der Poel said he had entered the Giro d’Italia because he thought he could win the opening stage, and on Friday he delivered.
“The idea really started to take shape to do the Giro because the first stage really suited me,” he said after the victory.
“And it’s crazy today, I did it.”
Van der Poel edged Eritrean Biniam Girmay and Pello Bilbao to the finish line atop a 3 mile climb on a 121 mile run from Budapest to the hilltop citadel at Visegrad. Australian sprinter Caleb Ewan fell heavily when making his burst for the line.
One-day specialist Van Der Poel took the first race leader’s pink jersey, and collected a time bonus of 10 seconds as the first rider across the summit.
“I knew positioning would be key,” said Van der Poel, whose team flew to the front at the foot of the climb as he then lurked patiently until the final moment.
“I didn’t have enough energy left to raise my arms. This is a typical finish where it hurts a lot to sprint after a final climb.”
“Tomorrow will be interesting to see if I can keep the lead in the time-trial. It’ll be difficult but I’ll try,” promised the Alpecin rider, who led the Tour de France for six days in 2021.
‘On the limit’
Girmay is seeking what would be a historic major tour stage win for Eritrea.
“I had never done a sprint like this before, I was on the limit,” he said.
“Van der Poel was the strongest today, but I will try again on Sunday.”
The Lotto-Soudal team tweeted that Ewan would keep racing.
“Apart from several abrasions, Caleb came away without any severe injuries and will take the start in the ITT tomorrow,” they said.
Ineos Grenadiers leader Richard Carapaz gained a tiny advantage over all his long-term rivals when he hung on to the shirt-tails of the winning clique to finish four seconds ahead of Bike Exchange’s Simon Yates, UAE’s Joao Almeida and DSM’s Romain Bardet.
“It was the first day and I think we got rid of some of the stress of starting the Giro,” said Carapaz.
The race returns to Budapest on Saturday for a testing 5.7 mile inner-city circuit with the first rider down the starter’s ramp at 14:00 local time (12:00GMT).
The 176-rider peloton left Budapest for the first of 21 stages over 2100 miles. That prospect was no deterrent to
Italian pair Mattia Bais and Filippo Tagliani broke away as soon as the starter’s flag waved. They were only reeled in by a reluctant peloton 9 miles from the finish.The Giro opens with three days in Hungary and on Friday mounted Hussars galloped alongside the peloton, which itself looked impressive as it swept along the banks of the Danube river towards the castle at Visegrad. The race transfers to Italy for stage four, which culminates with a potential skirmish of the big guns on the volcanic slopes of Sicily’s Mount Etna.
Hungary was originally scheduled to host the start of the Giro in 2020 but that year’s race was postponed until October due to the pandemic and held entirely within Italy.
The Tour de France opening stages will be contested in Copenhagen in July, while the Vuelta a Espana in August also features a foreign start at Utrecht.
RBA/AFP Photos: Sprint Cycling