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Preview: Giro d'Italia finish at Visegrad citadel offers double glory

Valter Giro 2021
Attila Valter wore the maglia rosa for three stages at the 2021 Giro d'Italia (Image credit: Getty Images/Composite)

The opening stage of the 2022 Giro d'Italia ends on the climb to Visegrad citadel on Friday, with riders traversing a gradual but twisting road. It's a tempting stage for the sprinters and finesseurs but also offers a host of other riders a rare chance of winning the open stage and taking the first race leader's maglia rosa.

The 195km Giro d'Italia stage 1 is flat, so it will all be about the rising finish. Do the likes of Mark Cavendish (QuickStep-AlphaVinyl) and Caleb Ewan (Lotto Soudal) have a chance? Or will Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) or Biniam Girmay (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert) use their Classics positioning skills, aggression and fast finish to steal the glory?

Overall contenders like Simon Yates (BikeExchange-Jayco), Richard Carapaz (Inoes Grenadiers) and Mikel Landa (Bahrain Victorious) will have to be focused and well placed to ensure they do not lose any seconds to their faster-finishing rivals.

A one-second time gap in the peloton at the finish line can result in far bigger gaps in the results. There are also time bonuses of 10, 6 and 4 seconds awarded to the first three riders on the stage. Stage 1 is not considered to be a sprint stage and riders will not be awarded the same time as the group they were in if they crash inside the final three kilometres.

Every second will count in this year's Giro d'Italia, and stage 1 will be the first test of their 21-stage battle for overall victory.

Flat until the last five kilometres

The stage starts in spectacular central Budapest and then heads south and west towards the first intermediate sprint in Székesfehérvár, a former trade hub in central Hungary.

The peloton will then swing north, riding 100km through mostly agricultural areas, heading up to the northernmost point of the stage, Esztergom, on the border with Slovakia. Here sees the day's second chance for the points jersey contenders to sprint for the maglia ciclamino but a breakaway is highly likely to spend much of the stage out front before the likes of Alpecin-Fenix, Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert, or any other team interested in the stage victory closes down the breakaway.

From Esztergom the stage route stays near the bends of the river Danube until five kilometres to go. Positioning will be vital for everyone, especially leading into the right turns that diverges from the banks of the Danube and onto the five-kilometre climb to the Visegrad citadel.

The first part of the climb is in the valley at a gentle 2.6% but a hairpin bed with four kilometres to go will be a vital pinch point, with the road suddenly kicking up the hillside at 8%. Anyone caught out of position here could pay for it massively. Some pure sprinters may already have eased up and thrown in the towel, too.

Two kilometres of climbing at 5% follow, with several other corners, until the road sweeps past the Visegrad citadel. The gradient continues upwards for another kilometre, only flattering out for the finish line, with the sprint finishing off the riders' huge effort on the sweeping, climbing road. The stage will be like ending Milan-San Remo atop the Poggio but with a rare Corsa Rosa double up for grabs.

Sprinters like Cavendish, Arnaud Démare (Groupama-FDJ) and Fernando Gaviria (UAE Team Emirates) may find themselves out of the picture on such a short but relentlessly grinding ascent, but Ewan, Girmay, and Van der Poel surely have a chance even if they have played down their hopes and ambitions.

If Cavendish cracks on the climb, QuickStep-AlphaVinyl may find a back-up with Davide Ballerini or Andrea Bagioli. Pello Bilbao (Bahrain Victorious) could be a threat if he can race for himself while Magnus Cort (EF Education-Easy Post) could also be a danger if he is back to his best after breaking his left collarbone and right hand at Tirreno-Adriatico. Even Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), winner of a similar uphill opening stage at Plumelec in the Tour de France in 2008, could be in with a shout of taking his first-ever pink jersey in his second last-ever Grand Tour. That would be the least expected day but a fairytale result.

Home rider Attila Valter wary of van der Poel

Mathieu van der Poel en route to victory in the Tour of Flanders

Mathieu van der Poel en route to victory in the Tour of Flanders (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

There's no doubt that the stage was designed with hometown star Attila Valter in mind. The Groupama-FDJ rider featured prominently in the early stages of last year's Giro, making a name for himself by defending the pink jersey with honour. He will rightly be the centre of attention as his nation plays host to the Grande Partenza for the first time in Giro d'Italia history.

He knows the climb and could have a chance if the peloton distance Démare.

"It's really hard to say who will win the stage, even though I've done it quite a lot of times," Valter explained.

"I think it depends a lot on the weather. If there's a headwind, it's a big advantage for the sprinters because the group can't go so fast. Even if they push on the front, the sprinters can stay on the wheel, so I think there are many scenarios.

"The team has two scenarios: If Arnaud hangs on, then I will help him. It's much better to have someone who can win a stage, because if it's a headwind with a big bunch, I will have a hard job. I'm fast but I'm fast from a group of maybe ten guys, not from a bunch to beat people like Arnaud and Mathieu van der Poel.

Van der Poel was evasive about his chances despite his incredible track record and the suitability of the finish.

Mathieu will have his own tactics and ideas. He says one thing and then he goes on Strava and does 500 watts for the whole climb.

Attila Valter

Like at last year's Tour de France, Van der Poel starts the opening stage of the Giro as the favourite to take victory and the first leader's jersey. Last summer, he narrowly missed out to Julian Alaphilippe on the uphill finish in Landerneau, instead taking yellow a day later on the Mûr-de-Bretagne.

"It won't be easy to get the pink jersey, but I'm going for it," Van der Poel said after riding the climb in training upon his arrival in Hungary.

"It's certainly not easy. It's like the opening stage in the Tour last year and then I didn't win it. It's really steep. There are a lot of advantages to staying in the bunch. It will be difficult to attack there and difficult to drop sprinters like Caleb Ewan. We'll see who has the best legs to win the sprint."

Valter is not convinced by Van der Poel's hesitance.

"Mathieu will have his own tactics and ideas. He says one thing and then he goes on Strava and does 500 watts for the whole climb. I think he can take it, but I think many riders can take it," the Hungarian said.

"I think he can drop many riders on this climb, but I think it's hard also for him. He's still the favourite for me and everyone should focus on him, which will make it a very hard task. But Arnaud did a good job preparing for this Giro and he can get to the climb in good shape. And then he can be faster than Mathieu.

All the predictions, the mind-games and debating will end on Friday afternoon in view of the Visegrad citadel.

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Stephen Farrand

Stephen is the most experienced member of the Cyclingnews team, having reported on professional cycling since 1994. He has held the position of European editor since 2012 and previously worked for Reuters, Shift Active Media, and Cycling Weekly, among other publications.