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Mathieu van der Poel won the Tour of Flanders after a long, two-up fight with his longtime rival Wout van Aert.
It came down to a sprint, and down to less than a wheel length, between two riders with battles that stretch back to cyclocross courses and look set to continue long into the future.
Alexander Kristoff led a select group across the line in third.
World champion Julian Alaphlippe had been in the lead group but crashed into a motorcycle and was forced out of the race.
How it happened
The Koppenberg with 45km to go served as the breaking point, creating gaps in the still-large front group and setting up van der Poel, van Aert, and Alaphilippe to head off the front.
The trio became two when Alaphilippe ran into the back of a motorcycle, nearly hit by van der Poel as well. The Frenchman crashed hard and X-Rays later showed fractured metacarpal 2 and 4 in his right hand.
That left two.
Van Aert and van der Poel rolled turns in unison through the laps that now define the end of Flanders, over the Kwaremont and the Paterberg.
Behind, the chasing group was packed full of strong names and former winners: Alberto Bettiol, John Degenkolb, Oliver Naesen, Sep Vanmarcke, Alexander Kristoff, Yves Lampaert, Florian Sénéchal, Dylan Teuns, Jasper Stuyven, Valentin Madouas, Dylan van Baarle, Tiesj Benoot, Dimitri Claeys, Arjen Livyns, Xavier Meurisse, Andrea Pasqualon, and Anthony Turgis.
With 16km to go, over the top of the Kwaremont, the gap was still over a minute and the group behind was dwindling.
The leading duo continued to trade pulls as they raced down the narrow descent into the sharp right turn at the base of the Paterberg, the last opportunity for a cobbled escape. Van der Poel led onto the climb, riding on and off the narrow strip of smoother stone at the far right side. Van Aert looked comfortable as the gradient ramped up. Neither found any space.
With 10km to go, and no more cobbles ahead, the two still swapped turns and rain began to fall.
Some cat-and-mouse let the chasing group close in, and they could see the leading duo as the race went under the red kite at 1 km to go.
Van der Poel held the right side, up against the barriers. Van Aert opened the sprint but couldn’t get the jump on his old rival. His front wheel never made it to the lead, and van der Poel took home his first Ronde van Vlaanderen victory.
Tour of Flanders results
1. Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix)
2. Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma)
3. Alexander Kristoff (UAE Team Emirates)
4. Anthony Turgis (Total Direct Energie)
5. Yves Lampaert (Elegant – Quick-Step)
More to come.