Mission accomplished for Mathieu, with view to keep pink as long as possible

Van der Poel ducked and dived his way to the stage one win before being forced into a late dodge as he celebrated.

by Jonny Long

photography by Getty Images

Opening the champagne on the finish podium, the cork shot out, hitting a flinching Mathieu van der Poel on the collarbone.

The champagne sprayed out on the Viségrad hilltops before the Dutchman returned to don the first maglia rosa of the 2022 Giro d’Italia. Two Grand Tour appearances, two leader’s jerseys.

His team had brought pink Oakley sunglasses with them, such was their confidence, and Van der Poel already had them on after the finish, easily slipping into his new life as the leader of the Giro d’Italia. Life comes at you fast if you’re Mathieu van der Poel, whether you’re sprinting for the line, changing in and out of four different jerseys for the podium, or dodging cork bullets in front of cheering fans.

“It was a unique opportunity for sure to get the jersey and I’m really happy to take the win today,” Van der Poel said after the finish. “Yeah for sure the yellow one was maybe even more special with the family history behind it but this jersey was also one of my big goals this year, that’s why I started the Giro and it’s crazy to get it.”

Van der Poel could feel himself getting boxed in on the uphill approach to the finish, forced to go around and expend precious energy, but in the end he timed his effort to perfection to thwart Biniam Girmay’s bid to make history.

After his podium duties, Van der Poel blew past the expectant television crews and made a beeline for Girmay, embracing him and taking a photo with the Eritrean who will no doubt become the first Black rider to win a Grand Tour stage sooner rather than later. “I didn’t have time to celebrate on the finish line because I had to dig so deep,” Van der Poel said of how close Girmay pushed him on stage one.

Somewhere, a pink time trial suit will be getting magicked up ready for the Dutchman tomorrow. “I hope so,” Van der Poel answered as to whether he can keep the pink jersey through tomorrow’s Budapest time trial. “For sure tomorrow I’m going to try to defend it but it’s going to be difficult.”

He’s seen a bit of the 9.2km-long course already, and is ready for the twists and turns and slightly uphill finish. Last year at the Tour de France he unexpectedly did enough in the first week time trial to prolong his stint in yellow and this year the mission remains the same: “I’ll try to surprise myself again for sure.”

“This was my main goal and the rest of the Giro I’ll try to go win another stage,” he continued, already famished a mere half hour after claiming a first stage win.

“I’m okay,” he said of the cork incident. “But they had already loosened it up so it went off before I noticed.” Van der Poel clearly likes a job well done, and in cycling his job is proving to clearly not be hard enough.

So, to whoever is responsible for the Giro’s podium champagne bottles, why not give Van der Poel some extra work and figure out how to make the cork on his next champagne bottle that little bit tighter.

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