Mathieu van der Poel wins Tour of Flanders as Tadej Pogacar finishes fourth in two-horse race

An exceptional 106th edition of the Ronde van Vlaanderen saw Mathieu van der Poel stick to debutant Tadej Pogacar like glue on the two climbs of Oude Kwaremont and Paterberg as the race’s two big hitters started clear until arrival. But a slack in the last kilometer opened the door for a chasing duo of Dylan van Baarle and Valentin Madouas, with Pogacar losing his place on the podium in dramatic fashion.

Victory – his second in three years – went to Dutchman Van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) who showed nerves of steel to stand up to his compatriot Van Baarle (Ineos Grenadiers) and Frenchman Madouas (Groupama-FDJ ) in an extraordinary sprint that left the Slovenian Pogacar. (UAE Team Emirates) licking his wounds after an unusual mistake by the 23-year-old rookie from Ronde.

Van der Poel and Pogacar approached the finish in Oudenaarde with 37 professional wins – and while the 2020 champion was clearly a faster finisher on paper than his rookie rival, the Dutchman would have had his eleventh-hour defeat against the Dane Kasper Asgreen last year fresh in his memory.

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With remarkable poise and confidence, Van der Poel held off his sprint until the chasing duo closed in on the leaders – clearing away to secure a momentous triumph while Pogacar was left boxed in by the Van duo. Baarle and Madouas, who had a deficit of 30 seconds after being distanced earlier on the Kwaremont.

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Van der Poel’s second Ronde victory came following his midweek victory at Dwars door Vlaanderen and capped an astonishing Flanders week for the 27-year-old after his late start to the season following a a wound.

“It’s amazing – I worked so hard for this one. At first, it wasn’t even sure that I would do classics. But winning Flanders after Dwars overtook Flanders is amazing,” he said.

“I was trying to hold Tadej’s wheel on the Kwaremont and the Paterberg – he was incredibly strong there. Especially the Paterberg, where I was really at the limit. But I had a few kilometers to get my legs back in shape and then focus on the sprint.

Van der Poel was full of praise for the man who managed to finish fourth in what seemed like a two-horse race – and even had some words of wisdom for the two-time Tour de France champion.

“Pogacar was perhaps the strongest in the race and he rode offensively. I would have applauded him if he had won – and I applaud him even when he didn’t. Maybe he just need to sprint a few more times here to get it right,” he said.

‘I wasn’t stressed’ – Van der Poel on the strange sprint finish with Pogacar

No joy for Quick-Step or Jumbo-Visma

Defending champion Asgreen (Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl) had a race to forget, the 27-year-old suffering a mechanic near the top of the Koppenberg climb with 44km to go just as Pogacar threw the hammer with his decisive attack. Asgreen rallied but could only take 23rd place – the best result for his Quick-Step side, who hope to end their barren run at Paris-Roubaix in a fortnight.

In the absence of their leader Wout van Aert, Jumbo-Visma did little better. Tiesj Benoot and Christophe Laporte – despite a bad fall 80 km from the end – were part of a chasing group that never got better. Grounded after testing positive for Covid in the middle of the week, Belgian champion Van Aert would have watched in frustration as Frenchman Laporte arrived ninth and his compatriot Benoot 13th.

Another day, things might have been different for QuickStep. An interesting 14-man move with 85km remaining caught Van der Poel’s Alpecin-Fenix ​​and Pogacar’s UAE side taking a siesta, with Yves Lampaert, Jannik Steimle and Zdenek Stybar all clearing for the Belgian team alongside, in particular, Mads Pedersen from Trek-Sagafredo and the 2019 winner Alberto Bettiol (EF Education-EasyPost). But all of that turned out to be irrelevant once Pogacar made up his mind.

Pogacar pulverizes the field on his debut

A break of nine runners – including specialist Taco van der Hoorn (Intermarche-Wanty-Gobert) cleared within 15km of the 272.5km test as the runners meandered through the Flemish countryside towards the hills around from Oudenaarde, where 18 cobbled climbs provided the backdrop for an exciting race.

The advantage of the nine breakaways never crossed the five-minute mark – thanks in large part to the familiar sight of Tim Declercq (Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl) setting a brisk pace at the front of the pack for Quick-Step, with Jumbo-Visma and Alpecin-Fenix ​​lending a hand to even out the gap.

After the intriguing 14-man counter-movement formed with 85km to go, Laporte was one of the few runners to hit the bridge before an acceleration from Connor Swift (Arkea-Samsic) on the Kanarieberg, which forced a reaction from Tim Wellens (Lotto Soudal) and Kevin Geniets (Groupama-FDJ).

It was on that same climb that Pogacar launched his failed bid to join the leaders at Dwars door Vlaanderen – and it wasn’t long before the Slovenian decided to test his legs in his first cobbled monument. Shedding light on a low-speed crash earlier in the race, a sustained push on the second Oude Kwaremont pass saw Pogacar sweep away all movement and blast the peloton to smithereens.

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On the Paterberg, it was then Pogacar’s compatriot Jan Tratnik (Bahrain Victorious) who took over and was hurt while a dozen runners won 50km from the end. Tratnik’s British teammate Fred Wright then latched on to a dig from Ineos’ Van Baarle and the two headed towards the infamous Koppenberg with a small gap.

Behind, another acceleration from Pogacar was matched only by Van der Poel and Madouas. The trio caught up with the leaders before the second and decisive Kwaremont-Paterberg double ascent, where the relentless Pogacar showed his climbing ability. But despite his best efforts, he couldn’t dislodge Van der Poel from his rear wheel, with the Dutchman recovering from a very slight wobble on the Paterberg to reach the summit right there on Pogacar’s shoulder.

History repeats itself for Van der Poel

For the third time in as many years, Van der Poel approached the finish in a leading duo. He had beaten Van Aert in 2020 but lost to Asgreen in 2021 – proving how unpredictable such finishes can be after so many miles and leg climbs. But the Dutchman played it so cool, refusing to open his sprint early after being introduced in the lead under Pogacar’s red flame.

And when Van Baarle and Madouas came back with the pace to catch Pogacar napping in a pincer movement, Van der Poel still had enough zip to keep his compatriot at bay and secure his second victory in four days and, more importantly, the second Ronde victory of his career.

For Pogacar, his brief springtime flirtation with the cobbles ends in frustrating fashion – the best all-around rider of his generation showing his own mortality before focusing on the Ardennes and a third straight Tour de France crown. But Van der Poel now has two weeks to prepare for his assault on a first Paris-Roubaix win.

“First, I’m going to enjoy this one before I think about that,” Van der Poel said. Very well too. Not to mention the little affair of the Amstel Gold Race next weekend for which Van der Poel will be among the favorites. Just like this Pogacar man…

Highlights: Van der Poel triumphs again, “Where was Pogacar?”

Top 10 of the Tour of Flanders

  • 1. Mathieu van der Poel (Ned) Alpecin-Fenix ​​6:18:30
  • 2. Dylan van Baarle (Ned) Ineos Grenadiers
  • 3. Valentin Madouas (Fra) Groupama-FDJ
  • 4. Tadej Pogacar (Slo) United Arab Emirates Team
  • 5. Stefan Kung (Swi) Groupama-FDJ+2
  • 6. Dylan Teuns (Bel) Bahrain Victorious
  • 7. Fred Wright (GB) Bahrain Victorious +11
  • 8. Mads Pedersen (Lair) Trek-Segafredo +48
  • 9. Christophe Laporte (Fra) Jumbo-Visma
  • 10. Alexander Kristoff (Nor) Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Materials

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