Taco van der Hoorn, who was thinking of quitting cycling a few months ago, delivered a dramatic first Grand Tour win as he held off a chasing pack to take the third stage of the Giro d’Italia in Canale.
“Five months ago, I considered quitting cycling because I didn’t have a contract,” the 27-year-old Dutchman said.
“Today I win a stage of the Giro! I can’t believe it.”
“After the finish I was thinking: ‘Is this real?” the Intermarche rider said on the podium.
The victory backed up the judgement of Van der Hoorn’s team which is competing in its first major tour since Intermarche became the principal sponsor.
“Van der Hoorn likes to race against the clock, against the wind and against the peloton,” says his biography on the team website.
Asked about his goals for the rest of the race, he said: “first I have to celebrate. This a dream come true. I have to celebrate it.”
Italian Davide Cimolai (Israel Start-Up Nation) won the sprint for second, four seconds behind the winner.
The stage had a small impact on the overall standings as Filippo Ganna of Ineos increased his lead by three seconds to 16 seconds.
Edoardo Affini, an Italian with Jumbo-Visma who started the day closest to Ganna was dropped on the climbs, allowing his Norwegian team-mate Tobias Foss to inherit second place.
Behind them are two Deceuninck riders, Belgian Remco Evenepoel and Portuguese Joao Almeida, both 20 seconds off the lead.
“I saw that Remco has fantastic legs,” said Ganna. “It will be difficult for me to defend the pink jersey.”
Ganna and the other favorites, including former Grand Tour winners Simon Yates of Bike Exchange and Ineos’ Egan Bernal, finished safely in the main pack.
‘It was so surreal’
Van der Hoorn was part of a break that escaped the main pack 3 miles into the 111 mile stage.
The breakaway disintegrated on the short sharp hills in the second half of the stage in the vineyards near Alba.
With the pack closing on the two survivors, Van der Hoorn and Swiss rider Simon Pellaud of Androni kept riding.
“I didn’t believe when we had one minute with 25k,” said van der Hoorn.
“I just think that 0.5 per cent, it’s enough chance and I just take it.”
After following Pellaud up the last climb, and with only a 35-second lead over the pack, Van der Hoorn accelerated away.
“Simon was pulling me hard on the climb. I’m a bit heavier and I was struggling. But on the descent I was feeling much stronger,” said Van der Hoorn.
“I was thinking I have to go now and do a bit higher speed.”
He was helped by a disorganized pursuit as the leading teams in the peloton waited for their rivals to do the work and close the gap.
“For me it was so surreal that I was there in front and the peloton was not coming back at me. I didn’t believe it,” said Van der Hoorn.
“The (team radio) was saying 40 seconds, still 40 seconds.
I was thinking ‘Ah! Maybe I can really make it’.”