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Van der Hoorn fends off Giro d'Italia sprinters for dramatic victory

Taco van der Hoorn (Intermarchè-Wanty Gobert) wins stage 3 at the 2021 Giro d'Italia
Taco van der Hoorn (Intermarchè-Wanty Gobert) wins stage 3 at the 2021 Giro d'Italia (Image credit: Getty Images)

A day-long effort by Taco van der Hoorn (Intermarche-Wanty-Gobert Materiaux) provided the Giro d’Italia with one of its most memorable transition stages in years as the Dutch racer’s early breakaway bid paid off dividends by a breathtakingly narrow margin on stage 3 in Canale.

Van der Hoorn defied all the odds to come home alone less than five seconds ahead of the peloton, claiming by far the biggest victory of his career and giving his team their first triumph of the season as well.

Having dropped his most tenacious rival, Simone Pellaud (Androni Giocattoli-Sidermec) nine kilometres from the summit of the last, unclassified climb, Van der Hoorn’s persistence and willingness to eke out every last ounce of energy to get to the line netted him and his team the biggest of jackpots.

Van der Hoorn suffered a major, career-threatening head injury in a 2017 mountain bike crash that left him severely concussed and forced to spend months in a darkened room, which made the end of stage 3 feel like a classic, inspirational plot line for a feel-good movie. 

On Monday’s stage, the Van der Hoorn played the part of the rank outsider taking on the most powerful members of a sporting establishment, or indeed any kind of establishment, and, somehow, beating them at their own game just when it seemed he was doomed to fail.

“I was determined that I would get in the break today come what may,” Van der Hoorn told reporters afterwards.  “For sure, it wasn’t really the plan to finish it off like this. But if there’s a small chance you have to go for it.”

When told his ultra-narrow victory time margin by reporters, Van der Hoorn said,  “Four seconds? I think it would have been a bit more, but I spent a bit of time celebrating. Certainly, until a kilometre to go, I always thought I had a bit more time. I knew there were two sharp corners in the last part of the course, and then I just started sprinting right at the end, to be sure I was going to make it."

With his last victory a stage in the BinckBank Tour in 2018, also taken from a break, and a hugely emotional event as it was his first win following his bad mountain bike crash and difficult and lengthy recovery process, Van der Hoorn explained that opportunities for raising his arms in the air were severely limited.

“For me, it’s really difficult to go for a victory. If I try in a sprint with Dylan Groenewegen,” his former teammate at Jumbo-Visma, “I’m never going to win. If I try to succeed in a TT, I’m never going to make it either. I have to go in the breakaways because that’s my only chance.”

However, Van der Hoorn’s victory had curious multiple echos of Tim Merlier’s bunch-sprint triumph on stage 2 of the Giro, just 24 hours before. Like Merlier, Van der Hoorn is a Grand Tour rookie, and like Merlier’s Alpecin-Fenix squad, Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Materieux are making their debut this May in the Italian Grand Tour.

“We’ve taken a big step up with the team this year, as it’s our first season in the WorldTour, too,” Van der Hoorn said, “It feels good to be able to repay the team’s confidence of putting me on a nice program.”

Had he continued in Jumbo-Visma, his team until 2020, he would have likely spent most of the day chasing down breakaways for Groenewegen, not trying to stay off the front. 

“I enjoyed my time with Jumbo,” he said. “I learned a lot and it was really nice to ride for guys like Wout Van Aert, but it’s also nicer riding in a breakaway, than trying to catch a break for Dylan.”

Although taking part in the same event, Van der Hoorn underlined the massive difference in objectives between the most powerful of Giro teams Jumbo-Vismo and WorldTour newcomers like his own squad. When he was asked who he thought could be in the pink jersey on Tuesday’s very hilly stage, he said, “I don’t know and I don’t care."

The Giro’s main actors will doubtless come to the fore on the race’s first summit finish on Tuesday, in their quest for the overall victory in Milan, but for a team like Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Materiaux and a rider like Van der Hoorn, their Grand Tour mission in Italy is already accomplished, and on the highest of high notes as well.