Gestures say it all sometimes and for all Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) did not talk to reporters at the finish line of stage 10 of the Giro d’Italia, visually at least the Dutchman seemed to recognise that he had been beaten fair and square by Biniam Girmay (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux) in the two-way sprint which decided the day.
Widely tipped as the favourite on the punchy finale with marked similarities to the Tirreno-Adriatico stage he won just a few kilometres away from Jesi back in 2021, Van der Poel and Alpecin-Fenix had lived up to pre-stage expectations as they laid down a ferocious pace on the final short but intense climb of the Monsano.
But the hard work by Alpecin-Fenix proved so successful it actually left their own leader isolated on the descent in a group of some 40 riders, something the team later recognised could well have influenced the final stage outcome.
Van der Poel made multiple accelerations in the fraught downhill finale, but attacks by GC favourites muddied the picture for the Dutchman and in the final kilometre it was Girmay who opened up the sprint for the line.
The Dutchman did his best to get on terms, but the Eritrean was able to count on Domenico Pozzovivo for his lead-out and consequently had that extra bit of fuel left in the tank. So for the second time in three days, Van der Poel was once again forced to admit defeat, and in the process Girmay claimed a historic victory.
Having sat up when he knew his options of out-duelling Girmay had evaporated, Van der Poel then gave a thumbs-up in recognition at his rival’s superiority as he wheeled across the line. Equally sportingly, he then gave Girmay a huge hug of congratulations before riding away.
As at Naples, Van der Poel did not talk to the media, but Alpecin-Fenix sports director Christoph Roodhooft told Italian TV later “it’s disappointing.”
“What happened was he was beaten by someone else, there’s nothing to say about that,” Roodhoft continued, before pointing to the lack of support for Van der Poel in the finish. “I think he was OK, but Girmay had teammates with him and Mathieu was alone.
“Unfortunately there is nothing that we can do. We will have to see how we continue with it, and see if eventually we can win another stage.”
With Wednesday's flat run to Reggio Emilia likely to go the way of the out-and-out sprinters, Van der Poel’s best opportunities this week will likely come in Genova’s hilly finale on Thursday.
Turin's tough series of climbs on Saturday are also a possible opportunity for the Dutch all-rounder to shine. But the finishing circuit in Turin is so difficult there is every chance of a GC skirmish evolving that, as happened on Tuesday immediately before his final sprint against Girmay, could consequently reduce Van der Poel's options of striking out for victory. Alpecin-Fenix, for one, will be hoping that particular sub-plot of recent Giro history does not repeat itself in four days’ time. But for now at least, Van der Poel will have to wait for another opportunity to come his way.
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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.