While everyone else awaited a stage winner, Rick Zabel (Israel-Premier Tech) had accepted a stealth mission to sneak into the maglia azzurra, so covert that he didn’t even pay a visit to the podium at the end of the day, equal as he is with pretty-in-pink Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix).
“For the second time in my career, I’m happy to wear the mountain jersey even if this time, it’s equal with Mathieu van der Poel,” Zabel said via his team’s social media after stage 2.
The stage 2 time trial was an interesting one, pan flat right up until the foot of the vicious final climb, where the ‘intermediate’ timing point was positioned. This unique 1.3 km hill climb challenge presented a tantalising opportunity to Zabel, who despite being neither a time trial specialist nor a climber, saw a chance to take a mountain classification jersey, and not for the first time.
Zabel hatched the same plan in the short opening time trial at the 2020 Giro, going full gas out of the blocks to take maximum KOM points at the top of the short climb in Monreale before cruising to a leisurely 121st place.
This time, he had a nice long run up to his effort, and the only rider who went slower between the start ramp and the timing point had crashed along the way.
“It’s always nice to wear a leaders’ jersey in a Grand Tour,” Zabel said. “I rode very easy until the bottom of the climb and as soon as I hit the last check with 1.3 kilometres to go, I went all out. I didn’t have a power meter so I didn’t know my power but I just went all out until the end and got the fastest time by one second.”
In fact, it wasn’t even a whole second that separated the German from Jumbo-Visma’s Pascal Eenkhoorn who’d had the same idea before the time trial, but it was enough: mission accomplished.
A video shared by Israel-Premier Tech as stage 3 got underway showed the thought Zabel and the team – blue accessories ready and waiting – had put into the quest for the jersey, and laid bare all the factors at play. In short, there were plenty of ifs, but it all worked out.