Mathieu van der Poel has made the most of his paltry nine days of racing so far this year, winning the Tour of Flanders for the second time and landing a podium in his season debut at Milan-San Remo. Next month, Van der Poel will aim to complete his first Grand Tour at the Giro d'Italia - an objective he tells Wielerflits.nl is important for his development as a road racer - before aiming to also finish the Tour de France.
Van der Poel, 27, made his Grand Tour debut with a splash at the 2021 Tour de France, where he won the second stage and wore the yellow race leader's jersey for six stages before losing it on stage 8 to Le Grand-Bornand. He then left the race to prepare for the Olympic Games, where he raced the men's cross country event but did not finish.
Completing a Grand Tour and enduring the stresses - both physically and mentally - of three weeks of intense racing can transform a rider. And while Van der Poel has already chalked up a slew of top results on the road - 15 WorldTour victories and major classics like Tour of Flanders, Amstel Gold Race, Strade Bianche and Dwars door Vlaanderen, and stages of the Tour de France, Tour de Suisse and Tirreno-Adriatico, he still has "an eye to the future" with his Grand Tour plans and the Giro d'Italia is an important piece of the puzzle.
"The Giro is a race that appeals to me," Van der Poel said in an interview with Wielerflits after his ninth-place finish at Paris-Roubaix. "I think it will definitely be good for me in the future, to do a Grand Tour for my evolution as a rider. Especially when you see what a spring I've ridden now. That was not very extensive."
Van der Poel had a relatively late start to the season after suffering a major flare-up of a back problem in his second cyclo-cross race in December. The injury kept him off the bike for a month and delayed his season debut until he came back for Milan-San Remo after an extended training camp in Spain.
Racing the Giro d'Italia, he says, "might give me a little more base and I will be just a little stronger - the engine just a little bigger. That's something I still need to work on. I haven't ridden a Grand Tour yet, even though I'm 27 years old. Everyone always says that you get better from a Grand Tour, so I'm curious."
Last month, Van der Poel said the Giro was a possibility, but it was not 100 per cent sure he would race there. Now, it seems he will be on the start line in Budapest, where the punchy opening stage could see him target the first maglia rosa.
"The first week is very attractive with a chance at the pink jersey. That is the main reason," he told AD.nl last month.
"I have the intention to finish the Giro and the Tour both this year."
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