photo credits @ RVV
Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) claimed a spectacular victory at the Tour of Flanders today, after the Slovenian rider distanced Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Deceuninck) on the final climb of the Oude Kwaremont after an epic battle on the roads and climbs of Flanders.
It initially looked like victory in today’s cobble-classic had escaped the big three favorites of Pogačar, Van der Poel and Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma), after a group of 10 riders escaped the peloton, later opening up an advantage of around three minutes.
However. Pogačar inspired a comeback and determined chase and then surged past last the last of the escapees, Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo), on the final time up the Oude Kwaremont. Meanwhile, Pedersen saw off van Aert in the sprint for third.
Pogacar joins Eddy Merckx as the second rider to win three different Monuments before the age of 25. Pogacar has won Liege–Bastogne–Liege (2021) and Giro di Lombardia (2021 and 2022), with Milano-San Remo and Paris-Roubaix the only Monuments missing from his bulging palmarès.
“It’s a day I’ll never forget,” Pogačar said. “I can say I can retire after today and be proud of my career but I can be super, super happy and proud.”
Pogačar is only the third rider to win the Tour de France and Tour of Flanders. He joins Eddy Merckx and Louison Bobet in the record books.
The Slovenian knew that the Oude Kwaremont was vital to his victory.
“I knew I had to go solo on the last time up the Kwaremont. I just gave it all. I almost cracked on the Paterberg but I knew it was going to be tough. It was the only way to go to the finish,” he said.
“The Kwaremont suits me the most, we hit it with speed and we suffer on the cobbles. Then it’s pure power to the top and it’s long. It favors me.”
It took 110 kilometers of racing for the breakaway to form due to incessant crashes and crosswinds. Fortunately, both van der Poel and Pogačar fought themselves outside of the fray(s), and were able to rejoin the pack after a short while.
Following an intense start to the race, the peloton eventually relaxed and permitted five riders – Jasper De Buyst (Lotto-Dstny), Daan Hoole (Trek-Segafredo), Elmar Reinders (Jayco-AlUla), Filippo van Colombo (Q36.5) and Guillaume Keirsbulck (Bingoal WB) – to create a break. Not so long after, with the quintet still within reach, Tim Merlier of Soudal-QuickStep bridged across to the break along with Jonas Rutsch of EF Education-EasyPost.
With the peloton finally taking their foot off the proverbial gas, chaos ensued with 145 kilometers remaining when Bahrain-Victorious’ Filip Maciejuk careered into the front of the peloton after jumping off the side of the road where he had ridden into a deep puddle. Maciejuk’s move brought down dozens of riders and led to the abandonment of Tim Wellens (UAE-Team Emirates) and Peter Sagan (TotalEnergies), and the disqualification of the 23 year old Polish rider.
Back in the peloton, Pederson decided to attack along the Molenberg, taking several key riders with him, including Matteo Trentin (UAE-Team Emirates) and Nathan van Hooydonck (Jumbo-Visma). Soudal-QuickStep were also represented by 2021 winner Kasper Asgreen
With kilometers to go, the chase group caught the breakaway, making a 19-rider strong group that was holding a 1:50 gap over the main field.
With Jumbo-Visma at the head of the peloton, the pace slowed, prompting Pogačar to launch his winning attack.
From there, the Slovenian immediately built a sizable gap, and no-one was able to respond. The Jumbo Visma duo of van Aert and Laporte joined forces with van der Poel, Tom Pidcock and Nils Politt, and within 10km they had caught Pogačar who had slowed down.
Back as a unit, it was on the Koppenberg with 42 kilometers to go that the Big Three clipped off the front together, each climbing so quickly up the steep, cobbled berg that Laporte and Pidcock were incapable of staying with them.
The trio worked well together to close in on the leading group that was beginning to fracture. Pedersen, who had ignited the original move some 80km before, attacked off the front on the Kruisberg and van der Poel did the same thing, bringing with him Pogačar but significantly not van Aert.
Onto the Kwaremont for the final time, and with just 17 kilometers remaining, Pogačar made his race-winning attack, jumping off the wheel of his teammate Matteo Trentin and immediately disappearing from the rest of the field.
Van der Poel was the only rider to be able to keep the Slovenian in sight, but once the two-time Tour de France champion had a small lead, he always looked likely to hold onto it. He powered over the Paterberg and cruised to the finish in Oudenaarde where van der Poel came home second, and Pedersen in third.
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