Magnus Cort's quest to complete his Grand Tour stage win set fell a little short at the Giro d'Italia's opening uphill finish at Visegrad, but the EF Education-Easy Post rider is not complaining.
Currently on the recovery trail after breaking his collarbone and wrist earlier this season, Cort came into the Giro d'Italia uncertain of how his form would hold up in the first Grand Tour of the year.
The stage was won by Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) ahead of Biniam Girmay (Intermarché-Wanty Gobert) and Pello Bilbao (Bahrain Victorious), with Cort finishing in fourth place on the five-kilometre uphill grind at Visegrad. The 29-year-old said he was a little disappointed to come close to victory but not quite pull it off.
In terms of the bigger picture, however, he knew that being so close was the kind of positive sign about his improving condition that he needed to keep fighting in the days to come.
"There was maybe 100 metres to go when I could feel my legs were jamming up and the other guys were passing me quite fast and then I had nothing to respond with," Cort told a small group of reporters at the finish.
"But I'm also happy to come back this strong after my injury and this is really promising for the next few weeks. I wanted to see if my legs are good and they definitely were if you're in the mix in this final."
In a fraught finale with multiple changes of speed and road direction making it an exceptionally hard challenge to calculate his strength, Cort said he had responded to a move by Wilco Kelderman (Bora-Hansgrohe) when the Dutchman attacked a long way out.
"Then when he lost a bit of speed I thought 'now is the moment to go' but I think I could push hard for about 50 metres. But then I completely exploded and only watch the other riders go around me." He still finished fourth though, and one spot ahead of Kelderman.
Cort had won on a similar uphill finish at Cullera in the Vuelta a España in 2021, when the versatile Dane fended off the peloton, headed by no less a star than Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma), for the first of three stage wins. However, he said if the Hungarian and Spanish climbs had similar appearances, the race circumstances were radically different.
"In Spain, I came onto the climb alone from a breakaway with the peloton chasing and closing behind and I could gauge my effort.
"Here it was about sitting in the bunch, fighting for the wheels, and it's very difficult to not spend too much energy and equally not sit too far behind."
On the fast uphill, Cort used up valuable energy as well because the peloton occasionally had to brake, and "every time you touch the brakes it's losing one or two seconds and then you have to accelerate to get it back.
"I'm sure for other guys all the same but it can make a huge difference if you have a perfect run up the climb. Although that's almost impossible with all those corners and where every time you're on the inside you all slow down."
It wasn't just his condition that had proved to be in solid shape on the climb: Cort was also able to count on some strong support from his teammates. Coming right at the start of a race, that combination of performances could only be good news.
"The team rode really well. And they were sitting with me in the front for like the last 30 kilometres and got me into the climb in a great position, so my head was mentally ready because I didn't have to fight for it," he explained.
Factor in coming back from such a challenging injury, and with all the Giro ahead of him, his motivation could hardly be higher.
Thank you for reading 5 articles in the past 30 days*
Join now for unlimited access
Enjoy your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1
*Read any 5 articles for free in each 30-day period, this automatically resets
After your trial you will be billed £4.99 $7.99 €5.99 per month, cancel anytime. Or sign up for one year for just £49 $79 €59
Join now for unlimited access
Try your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1
Get The Leadout Newsletter
The latest race content, interviews, features, reviews and expert buying guides, direct to your inbox!
Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 bar one, as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. As well as working for Cyclingnews, he has also written for The Independent, The Guardian, ProCycling, The Express and Reuters.