Mathieu van der Poel grabs thrilling Stage 1 victory at Giro d'Italia, Caleb Ewan crashes in final sprint
Mathieu van der Poel lived up to his pre-race favourite status to win the opening stage of the Giro d’Italia and secure the pink jersey. In a chaotic finale after a tough climb to the line, the indefatigable Dutchman powered past fellow debutant Biniam Girmay as Caleb Ewan hit the deck after a touch of wheels. Stream the Giro d'Italia live and on-demand on discovery+.
Giro d'Italia Stage 1 highlights - Van der Poel storms to stunning victory in dramatic finish
If the whole world expected it, Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) still had to deliver the goods. The 27-year-old Dutchman did just that – keeping his powder dry right to the bitter end of the deciding climb to surge past Eritrea’s Biniam Girmay of Intermarche-Wanty-Gobert in the 195km opening stage of the Giro from Budapest to Visegrad in Hungary.
As Caleb Ewan (Lotto Soudal) dug deep to stay in contact, the Australian sprinter touched wheels with Girmay and hit the deck just ahead of the line – allowing Spain’s Pello Bilbao (Bahrain Victorious) to take third place ahead of Denmark’s Magnus Cort (EF Education-EastPost).
Girmay, the Eritrean trailblazer who became the first African to win a cobbled classic earlier this spring, looked destined to write another glorious chapter in his remarkable rise. But the 22-year-old was just caught by Van der Poel, who timed his final kick to perfection to take the race’s first maglia rosa – on a ramped finish quite similar to that at Mur de Bretagne where he secured a maiden maillot jaune at last year’s Tour de France.
“I knew positioning was going to be the key to the win today,” Van der Poel said after his latest triumph of what is provinf to be another stellar season. “It was quite difficult at times and I found myself boxed in and I had to use up a lot of energy to catch up with the guys in front. My legs were full of lactic at the end and it really hurt – but it’s incredible after the yellow jersey to wear the pink.”
'It is incredible!' - Van der Poel overjoyed and exhausted after Stage 1 win at Giro
Ewan had done extremely well to stay in contention on the five-kilometre climb to the castle at Visegrad, where the maximum 8% gradient did for the chances of fellow fastmen Arnaud Dermare, Mark Cavendish and Fernando Gaviria.
Dutchman Wilco Kelderman (Bora-Hansgrohe) completed the top five while Ecuador’s Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers) stole an early march in the general classification battle after taking sixth place on the right side of a split that saw the 2019 champion gain a four-second advantage over his rivals.
Four bonus seconds is the advantage pink jersey Van der Poel will take into Saturday’s 9.2km time trial in Budapest, while Girmay’s superb ride on his own debut was rewarded with the Eritrean taking the white jersey as best young rider.
'Glorious chaos!' - Van der Poel grabs stunning victory on Stage 1 of Giro
A largely uneventful opening day of the 105th edition of La Corsa rosa saw Drone Hopper-Androni Giacattoli teammates Filippo Tagliani and Mattia Bais go clear of the peloton right from the gun after a long neutral section spirited the riders out of the Hungarian capital.
The Italian duo managed to build up a maximum lead of almost 11 minutes but this had been halved by the time Giacomo Nizzolo (Israel-PremierTech) led his maglia ciclamino rivals through the intermediate sprint with around 118km remaining. With the Alpecin-Fenix, Intermarche-Wanty-Gobert and EF Education-EasyPost teams of Van der Poel, Girmay and Cort combining on the front of the pack, this advantage dropped well below the two-minute mark entering the final 50km of the day.
The escapees were eventually caught inside the final 14 kilometres ahead of a fierce jostling for positions ahead of the decisive climb to the line. It was a battle from which Britain’s Mark Cavendish checked out, the 36-year-old veteran wilfully slipping off the back despite an earlier bike change to a lighter climbing model.
'Give it a go!' - Cavendish switches bikes to suggest big sprint challenge at Giro
When the fireworks were lit on the climb, Cavendish’s Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl saw their man for the finish, the Italian Davide Ballerini, hit the deck in one of the two crashes which marred the stage climax.
Belgium’s Lawrence Naesen (Ag2R-Citroen) and Germany’s Lennard Kamna (Bora-Hansgrohe) both tried their luck with long-range attacks before the UAE Team Emirates duo of Davide Formolo and Diego Ulissi brought things back together inside the final kilometre.
Ewan was one of the few pure sprinters who had managed to avoid being tailed off by the gradient – but the 27-year-old Australian perhaps launched a bit too early and he was already well beaten by the time he tumbled while trying in vain to latch onto Girmay’s wheel.
Van der Poel had kept a low profile on the climb but pushed all the right buttons at the right moment – powering past the impressive Girmay to take a debut pink jersey at the earliest possible occasion. Despite almost taking his eye out with a Prosecco cork on the podium, the Dutchman should be able to retain the race lead in Saturday’s 9.2km time trial in Budapest, which concludes with a cobbled section and a steep kick up to the finish.
'Bizarre' moment Van der Poel fires Prosecco cork into his face after Giro victory