Mathieu van der Poel’s one-man madcap attacks at the Giro d’Italia are laying the foundations for an assault on the Tour de France, predicts Eurosport expert Adam Blythe.
Fans of the Giro have become accustomed to shots of Van der Poel hunched over his handlebars at the front of a breakaway, with the Alpecin-Fenix rider making a series of moves that could be filed under ‘unusual’.
The Dutchman went back on the offensive on Stage 17 as he broke clear of the day’s break along with Gijs Leemreize (Jumbo-Visma) on a steep mountain descent – almost coming a cropper after overcooking a corner.
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Another attack on the final Cat. 1 climb took the 27-year-old clear of Leemreize as an improbable stage win beckoned, only for him to blow up as his compatriot, and then eventual stage winner Santiago Buitrago (Bahrain-Victorious), swept by.
With the stage profile appearing to favour other riders due to the long climbs, Blythe wondered if Van der Poel might be using the Giro as an acid test to see how his body responds to unforgiving situations.
“He’s been in the break a lot of times now. I think this is a bigger picture thing because normally with Van der Poel it’s like: ‘done that, onto the next one, done that, onto the next one’,” said Blythe on The Breakaway.
“He’s always got goals. He’s obviously trying to win stages but I think if he’s still here at this point in the race, pushing himself every day, this is for something bigger after it.
“It’s got to be for the Tour de France. And I think every time he’s doing it [attacking] he’s getting better and better.”
‘Woah, woah!’ – Van der Poel almost tumbles over barrier on mountain descent
Van der Poel won the opening stage in Hungary on his Giro debut and looks set to finish a Grand Tour for the first time on Sunday.
“It will be Mathieu van der Poel’s first time finishing a Grand Tour if he makes it to Verona,” added Robbie McEwen, a 12-time stage winner at the Giro.
“And they say finishing a Grand Tour as a rider takes you to the next level. What on earth is that for Mathieu van der Poel? That is scary."
He added: “He just races every single day and no matter if the course doesn’t really suit his capabilities, he finds a way to be competitive and try and find a way to win despite the course being against him.”
Van der Poel wore the leader’s maglia rosa until the race hit Sicily on Stage 4, with the Dutchman also finishing runner-up on Stages 2 and 10.
“We’re lucky to live in an age where we’ve got a rider like him who doesn’t really care if it goes wrong,” said Dan Lloyd.
“He’s just willing to lay it all on the line and he can afford to do so because of the wins that he’s picked up over the last few years on the road, cyclo-cross, mountain biking, everything else.
“I wasn’t expecting him to go as deep into the race as he did. I did think ‘it’s a bit too steep for him’, but he doesn’t go by numbers at all. He just goes as hard as he can until he drops.”
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Stream the Giro d'Italia live and on-demand on discovery+. You can also watch all the action live on eurosport.co.uk.
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