Giro d’Italia week one review: Back with the old, in with the new as Cavendish and Van der Poel thrive

Van der Poel won the first Giro d’Italia stage of his career to take the pink jersey

Mathieu van der Poel was 13 years old when Mark Cavendish sprinted to his first Giro d’Italia stage win back in 2008.

At that time, the young Dutchman was still four years away from winning his first junior world title, seven years away from his first cyclo-cross world title, and 13 years away from competing in his first Grand Tour.

That came only last year when he took on the Tour de France and claimed the leader’s yellow jersey on stage two.

Now in his second Grand Tour in Italy – of which the first three days took place in Hungary – Van der Poel went one step further on his Giro debut as he snatched the equivalent pink jersey after sprinting to victory in the very first stage of the 2022 edition.

He deviated from his trademark ‘early punch style’, instead hitting the front inside the final 100 metres to seal the win, although such was the energy he had exerted he couldn’t even raise his hands after crossing the line.

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In doing so, Mathieu achieved something both his father Adri and grandfather Raymond Poulidor did not manage during their impressive careers – winning a stage of the Giro.

The only slightly disappointing footnote to Van der Poel’s win was that he pipped Eritrea’s Biniam Girmay.

Had the 22-year-old Fleche Wallone winner Girmay crossed the line first he would have become the first ever African-born black rider to win a stage of any Grand Tour.

But you would expect him to have his hand raised at some point across the three weeks, particularly when you consider he has already finished in the top five in four of the opening six stages.

It could have been two in two days for Van der Poel had Simon Yates not produced the individual time trial of his life to edge the stage by three seconds.

That performance from the Briton was an early reminder that while pre-race favourite Richard Carapaz can call upon his Ineos Grenaderian firepower when required, Yates has the legs to go with him when it becomes mano a mano.

What’s more, the speed at which Yates flew up the final climb in the ITT – where he took time out of Van der Poel despite its short, punchy nature – is a warning sign to all the other general classification hopefuls that he will take some beating in the fortnight to come.

Then on stage three came another page in the neverending novel that is Mark Cavendish’s career.

Not only was it his 16th Giro win, his 53rd Grand Tour win, his 160th career win; it was also one of his most impressive.

The Manx Missile, or the Dart from Douglas as I think he should be known, will be 37 years of age come the end of this year’s Giro. But – as he himself claimed last year when equalling Eddy Merckx’s Tour stage record – he does not pay attention to the numbers.

Cavendish remains one of the best sprinters in the world

Cavendish hit the front with 300 metres remaining in Balatonfüred and somehow managed to hold off the chasing pack with a thoroughly impressive show of power and strength.

The victory sees the Brit equal the legendary Mario Cipollini as the pair have both won stages of the Giro 14 years apart from one another.

There has been a lot of talk about whether Cavendish will be given the opportunity to go to the Tour de France and eclipse the record of 34 wins which he currently holds alongside Merckx.

But if he does end up being selected to go with or instead of fellow Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl sprinter Fabio Jakobsen, then he has already proved at the Giro that it would not be merely a sentimental selection because he remains one of the best in the world.

Realistically, you imagine there will be five or six more bunch sprints before the end of this race. You’d be surprised if Cavendish doesn’t at least come away with one more. But whether he does or not, he is very difficult to ignore and Quick-Step boss Patrick Lefevere will be very aware of that.

Van der Poel relinquished the pink jersey on stage four after an unusual early rest day as the riders and teams travelled from Hungary to Italy.

The first day’s racing in Italy was the only real tough day for the general classification contenders in the opening week.

It was the breakaway duo of Lennard Kamna and Juan Pedro Lopez who contested the stage, with Kamna taking the victory and Lopez the race lead.

The Spaniard’s move into the red jersey and two-minute lead over most of the GC contenders will be a welcome sight for the likes of Ineos, Bora and Bahrain.

There is no danger of Lopez hanging onto the lead as the race enters the deep waters, but equally there is less danger of them acquiring the lead too early in the race and being forced to control each stage.

Although there has been little GC drama over the course of the first seven days of this race, a couple of outside contenders have fallen away already in Vincenzo Nibali and Tom Dumoulin.

Meanwhile, the likes of Yates, Carapaz, Joao Almeida, Wilco Kelderman, Mikel Landa and Pello Bilbao are all within 33 seconds of each other, with Jai Hindley, Hugh Carthy and the grandfather of modern cycling, Alejandro Valverde, also well inside the top 20.

More talk about the general classification fight in week two, but stage five belonged to the sprinters again as Arnaud Demare took the victory after Cavendish and Caleb Ewan had been dropped on a climb earlier in the day.

And then the following day, Cavendish was overhauled in a fast finish as Demare took his second win in two days, reminding the veteran sprinter that the floodgates were not going to open themselves.

Demare’s back-to-back wins mean he can lay claim to being the fastest man at the race, although Cavendish and Ewan appear to be at a similar level so it will be intriguing to see who has the edge once fatigue sets in.

Interestingly, Cavendish’s third place on stage six came just minutes after Jakobsen claimed a win at the Tour of Hungary. Something else to look out for across both races.

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In terms of drama among the pre-race favourites, it has been a slow burn in this opening week. The attraction has come from Van der Poel, Cavendish and Demare.

Onto week two we go.

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