Everyone expected Mathieu van der Poel to win the first stage of the Giro d’Italia, and so it was no surprise when the Dutchman crossed the line first at the finish in Visegrád. It wasn’t a traditional sprint stage or a time trial that kicked off the Grand Tour. Instead, it was a 5.5km category 4 climb that looked tailor-made for a puncheur like Van der Poel.
But it wouldn’t be easy for the multi-time world cyclocross champion-turned road racing superstar. Van der Poel had to sprint against Caleb Ewan, Diego Ulissi, Magnus Cort, and Biniam Girmay — the Eritrean youngster who officially broke into the circle of elite racers with a win at Gent-Wevelgem.
Also read: Power analysis: Mathieu van der Poel at the 2022 Tour of Flanders
A day later at the Giro, Van der Poel lined up at the top of the start ramp atop a glimmering pink Canyon time trial bike. The Dutchman set out to not only defend the pink jersey, but also to win the stage in the process. Though he came up agonizingly short — just three seconds behind first — it was an incredible performance from Van der Poel, as he averaged close to 500w for 12 minutes and still lost to Simon Yates.
Departing from Budapest, Hungary, the first stage of the Giro d’Italia had Van der Poel’s name written all over it. As soon as the Dutchman announced his 2022 calendar, everyone picked him as the favorite to take the first pink jersey of this year’s Giro. In fact, Van der Poel was so focused on stage 1 that he smashed a recon ride on the final climb fewer than 48 hours before the race.
During this recon, Van der Poel did a seven-minute effort at nearly 500w, holding very steady power that wasn’t too dissimilar from the upcoming race. The biggest difference was that Van der Poel didn’t have to sprint to the finish.
Van der Poel – Giro stage 1 recon ride:
Average Power: 489w (6.5w/kg)
Until the final climb, Stage 1 of the Giro d’Italia was one of the easiest bike races ever. I’m not even joking. With a weak, two-rider breakaway off the front, the peloton didn’t have to pace hard until the final few kilometers before the climb.
Van der Poel – First 200km of Stage 1:
Average Power: 174w (2.3w/kg)
Average Heart Rate: 109bpm
First 39km Average Heart Rate: 78bpm
Considering the easy run-in, the punchy finish was going to be even better for Van der Poel whose explosive efforts are his forte. But that also suited the more pure sprinters, including Caleb Ewan and Biniam Girmay, so it’s no surprise who was duking it out in the finale. A series of late attacks added a little bit of excitement, but the peloton was all back together with more than 600 meters to go, which is when Wilco Kelderman opened up the sprint.
Ewan fought in the wheels while Girmay and Van der Poel came charging up from behind. Sprinting into a headwind, the leadout man was always going to be at a disadvantage, and perhaps that’s why Van der Poel slotted in behind Girmay with a few hundred meters to go. The Eritrean overtook Ewan in the final couple of hundred meters, while Van der Poel struggled to come around the outside.
Cross-eyed and probably delirious, Ewan rode into Girmay’s rear wheel and crashed with less than 100 meters to go, and at the same moment, Van der Poel took the lead for good. The Dutchman couldn’t even celebrate, and he collapsed in a heap after the finish line just minutes before he took to the podium to don the first maglia rosa of his career.
Van der Poel – stage 1 final climb:
Average Power: 482w (6.4w/kg)
Normalized Power: 506w (6.7w/kg)
Final 2.5km: 521w (6.9w/kg) for 4:32
Final sprint: 880w (11.7w/kg) for 32 seconds
Max Power: 1,121w (15w/kg)
Stage 2’s individual time trial in Budapest was far from your typical TT course and again suited Van der Poel. With 24 corners in 9.2km and a category 4 climb to the finish, this course took a combination of power, bike handling, pacing, and courage. The top time trial riders came and went, and it was Matteo Sobrero’s time that was looking good with fewer than 20 riders to start.
Some were expecting former world time trial champion Tom Dumoulin to take the win after he beat Sobrero’s time, but it was Simon Yates who surprised everyone by beating Dumoulin by five seconds. And so the order was Yates-Dumoulin-Sobrero, and there was only one rider remaining on the road. Mathieu van der Poel went all-out on his bright pink Canyon to match his maglia rosa, and the Dutchman was looking good at the first intermediate time check.
Van der Poel – first 6.2km of stage 2 TT:
Average Power: 459w (6.1w/kg)
Normalized Power: 469w (6.3w/kg)
Van der Poel’s pacing strategy looked fairly simple – in an “easier said than done” sort of way: spike out of every corner at 600-800w, hold about 500w on the straights, and coast as you rip through the corners. On the uphills, bump it up to 530-550w. On the downhills, knock it down to 400w.
The Dutchman was holding 55-57kph on nearly every straight section of road, and he averaged nearly 50kph until the final climb. After railing the high-speed right-hander at the bottom of the climb, Van der Poel attacked the 11.4 percent gradient like he was sprinting for the win. He pushed all the way up the climb, holding close to 600w for the entire effort.
Van der Poel – stage 2 TT Final Climb:
Average Power: 574w (7.7w/kg)
First 200m of the climb: 701w (9.4w/kg) for 42 seconds
But somehow, the time of Simon Yates started slipping away, and Van der Poel crossed the line three seconds in arears, having given it everything for the second consecutive day. He would hold onto the maglia rosa for at least two more days, and maybe more depending on what happens on the slopes of Mount Etna.