Mathieu van der Poel took the first pink jersey of the Giro d’Italia in a chaotic finish to the opening stage in Visegrad.
he Dutchman, making his Giro debut, emulated his success in taking the yellow jersey early on in his first Tour de France last summer as he beat Biniam Girmay in an uphill sprint to the line.
Caleb Ewan was on for a podium finish but the Australian brushed wheels with Girmay in sight of the line and hit the deck hard, allowing Pello Bilbao to take third place.
Van der Poel, grandson of the late French favourite Raymond Poulidor and a star on the road, in cyclocross and on his mountain bike, started the day as favourite given the uphill finish to the 195km stage from Budapest.
His Alpecin-Fenix team took up the chase at the foot of the five kilometre climb from the banks of the Danube to the line, and Van der Poel controlled his effort as attacks from Lawrence Naesen and Lennard Kamna came to nought.
“I knew positioning was going to be the key to win today,” the 27-year-old said. “There was some difficulty, I was boxed in a few times on the climb and it cost a lot to catch up.
“At the final I just launched my sprint and it was pretty close because the legs were full of lactic acid but of course I’m really happy.
“It’s incredible after the yellow jersey to have the pink and now we will see what the time trial brings tomorrow.”
While Van der Poel takes pink, Girmay goes into the white jersey for the best young rider, a superb return for the 22-year-old Eritrean on the opening day of his first Grand Tour.
“It was a super hard finish,” the Intermarche-Wanty-Gobert Materiaux rider said. “I tried to do my best, I’ve never done a sprint like it. For 250-300 metres I am at the limit. I fully accept he was stronger than me today but I’m really happy.”
The uphill finish created some small time gaps, with 2019 champion Richard Carapaz, Wilco Kelderman and Bauke Mollema among those to pick up four seconds on the other general classification contenders, including Britain’s Simon Yates.
Mark Cavendish had said prior to the race he would not seek to contest this stage given the uphill finish, but he was active in the intermediate sprint, picking up a handful of points and indicating he intends to see this Giro through to the finish in Verona.