Mathieu van der Poel calls Giro d’Italia debut a success and sets sights on Tour de France

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This article originally appeared on Velo News

VERONA, Italy (VN) -- Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) can count his Giro d'Italia debut as a success.

The Dutch rider ticked off almost every goal he had on his agenda, notching up a stage win on the opening day to take the pink jersey and getting through a grand tour.

He would have liked to stand on the winner's podium again, but his failure to do so wasn't for the lack of trying. Van der Poel came close to a win at the start of the second week and was one of the most active riders in the last, going on the attack nearly every day.

"For sure, I came here with one big goal and that was the pink jersey," Van der Poel told the press in Verona. "We succeeded the first day, which was incredible, and to win two other stages with the team was really nice. Of course, I was aiming for a second stage win, but I think I can be happy with my race.

"I didn't have the best preparation for the Giro, it was really tight after the classics season. To succeed in my main goal, I was going for the pink jersey, finishing the Giro was also one of the goals and I succeeded. I think I can be really happy."

Also read: Power Analysis: Van der Poel and Buitrago's big numbers from stage 17 of the Giro d'Italia

Van der Poel didn't win in the mountains but he certainly impressed with some of his performances. It led to some questioning if he ever thought of trying to add a grand tour GC bid to his repertoire, an idea that was swiftly shot down.

"No, it's really something I'm not going to do. I prefer the classics and one-day races," he said.

Van der Poel's final chance at claiming a second stage win was in the final time trial around Verona, and prior to the stage, he publicly stated his aim to win it. Unfortunately for the Dutchman, home favorite Matteo Sobrero was far too strong for everyone, and he had to settle for third in the end.

"I didn't manage to ride the power output I was aiming for, but I think I can be happy. I'm not a time trial specialist for sure. I tried but the time trial never lies, but I can be happy," he said. "I feel better than expected after three weeks of racing but now I will take some rest and then afterward we will see if it made me a better rider or not."

As a team, Alpecin-Fenix had a hugely successful race with Stefano Oldani and Dries De Bondt also staking their claim on stage victories. The squad was the only ProTeam that was able to break the stranglehold that WorldTour teams had on success, though it's hardly surprising that it did with the talent in its squad.

Van der Poel was one of the fan favorites at the Giro d'Italia, after Italian hero Vincenzo Nibali. When the 27-year-old crossed the finish line at the top of the Passo Fedaia on the penultimate stage, almost 20 minutes down on the leaders, a huge roar ripped through the crowds at the top of the climb.

For one final flourish, Van der Poel also did a wheelie as he entered the arena in Verona following his time trial. Italian fans will be certainly be hoping he comes back soon.

"It's been really cool, also in Hungary, there were a lot of spectators. I think yesterday on the Fedaia was the highlight for me, it was really crazy," he said. "The Fedaia was something really amazing that I will remember for a long time. It was a cool experience.

"I think that the Giro is more relaxed [than the Tour de France] with less stress. It's a really nice country to race as well."

One thing that could turn the Italian fans against Van der Poel is his penchant for messing with Italian food. Earlier this year, an old video of him eating pasta with ketchup on it resurfaced and he joked with fans on social media about eating pineapple on pizza.

Van der Poel went further than jokes and tucked into the controversial dish at the end of the race.

"I already ate pizza on the bus with pineapple, sorry. Maybe you can forgive me," Van der Poel laughed when an Italian journalist said it was "a crime" against food.

Van der Poel will have time to atone for his transgressions as he's planning on training at altitude in Livigno next month ahead of his return to the Tour de France. The Dutchman confirmed that he won't be racing between the two grand tours.

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