Van der Poel: It'll be difficult to drop the sprinters on stage 1 of the Giro d'Italia

ROUBAIX FRANCE APRIL 17 Mathieu Van Der Poel of Netherlands and Team AlpecinFenix during the team presentation prior to the 119th ParisRoubaix 2022 Mens Elite a 2572km one day race from Compigne to Roubaix ParisRoubaix WorldTour on April 17 2022 in Roubaix France Photo by Bas CzerwinskiGetty Images
Mathieu van der Poel is the favourite for the first maglia rosa of the 2022 Giro d'Italia (Image credit: Bas CzerwinskiGetty Images)

Of the 39 debutants at this year's Giro d'Italia, Mathieu van der Poel is the most high-profile name on the list. The Tour of Flanders winner is set for what will be just his second career Grand Tour start in Hungary on Friday.

As was the case at last year's Tour de France, Van der Poel heads to the opening stage of the Giro among the major favourites 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.

This week, he'll tackle a similar finish in Visegrád, and is among a number of riders in contention for the first maglia rosa of the race on the 5.5km, 4.2 per cent finishing slope.

"It's a smaller dream than the yellow jersey," Van der Poel said at a pre-race press conference on Wednesday. "It won't be easy to get the pink jersey, but I'm going for it.

"We rode the finish and the final climb. 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."

Van der Poel is the outright leader on an Alpecin-Fenix squad that includes Dries De Bondt and two Italians, Jakub Mareczko and Stefano Oldani, though the team will be without their two top sprinters in Tim Merlier and Jasper Philipsen.

Merlier is out with an elbow injury suffered at Paris-Roubaix, while Philipsen was never down to ride. The team will be heavily reliant on Van der Poel for results, then. The 27-year-old is seeking stage wins through the race but won't target the ciclamino points jersey.

"It changes things a bit that Tim [Merlier] is not there," he said. "He is one of the fastest men in the world and I was supposed to be the lead out. Luckily with [Jakub] Mareczko we have another fast guy in our ranks.

"The podium? Maybe after the first day. The general classification is not a goal. The points jersey isn't either. I'll try to win stages and take the pink jersey in the early stages."

For Van der Poel, the Giro marks the start of a summer which will see him take on two Grand Tours. He said that he hopes to finish both the Giro and the Tour, noting that he hopes making it through three weeks for the first time will make him stronger still.

"I'll try to finish both the Giro and the Tour this year. It won't be easy, but I hope to get all the way to the end," he said.

"I've never climbed the Giro mountains before so it's a big question mark how my body will feel. It'll be nice to get through and see. Everybody says that finishing a Grand Tour makes you stronger."

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