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by Caley Fretz
October 4, 2020
There are days, like last year at Amstel Gold and again Saturday in Flanders, when Mathieu van der Poel takes what we think we know about bike racing, crumples it up into a little ball, and throws it out the window.
With a 17-second deficit into the final stage of the BinckBank Tour, van der Poel attacked with almost 50km to go and held off charging chasers across the region’s steep, cobbled hellingen to take the stage victory and the race overall.
His attack began on the Muur, a fitting opening. He came into the day with a 17-second deficit to Trek-Segafredo’s Mads Pedersen and ten seconds to Sunweb’s Søren Kragh Andersen. There were time bonuses on the line, but not enough to take the win. He needed a gap on both riders.
The canvas was a familiar one. The last stage of the BinckBank Tour was a bit of a mini Tour of Flanders, finishing halfway up the Muur in Geerardsbergen and taking the iconic climb in multiple times throughout the day.
Photos of the Muur always show the curving cobbled road with the church in the background, but the hardest part of the climb comes shortly before that. It’s a straight, 75m stretch, incredibly steep, rough, in the shade and covered in moss. This is where van der Poel gained separation, dropping the last of the small, select group that had formed earlier in the stage. Deceuninck-Quick Step’s Florian Senechal was the last to hang on, but halfway up this particular stretch of cobbles he appeared to ride into treacle as van der Poel hit the afterburners.
Big, long-range attacks sometimes work in major classics. Think 2010 Paris-Roubaix, where Fabian Cancellara separated himself with 48km remaining and stayed away. But those races are far longer, far harder than a final stage of BinckBank. At the tail end of Roubaix, it’s every rider for himself, a dynamic that can work in the solo attacker’s favor. The BinckBank Tour is no Roubaix. A 50 km attack at BinckBank is well outside the norm.
Van der Poel gained a handful of seconds over the top of the Muur and then extended his lead over the top. Thus began a 50-kilometer cat-and-mouse chase. With 15km to go, on the Bosberg, a chase group coalesced including Friday’s TT winner and overall leader Søren Kragh Andersen, Yves Lampaert, Oliver Naesen, Sonny Colbrelli, and Stefan Kung. With Pedersen gone, Kragh Andersen, in second overall, had the greatest incentive to ride, but most in the group put in their time at the front.
The race made another trip over the Muur. The gap shrank. Van der Poel churned away alone, slowly reeled closer. As the finish approached he was visible to the chasers, hanging on to less than 20 seconds with 5km to go.
Kragh Andersen put his head down and pulled, aware that the race was on his shoulders. It wasn’t enough. “Van der Poel, he was just super good today,” he said. “He was the strongest man, so that’s how it is.”
Take a bow, Mathieu. That was some incredible bike racing.
1 – VAN DER POEL Mathieu (Alpecin-Fenix)
2 – NAESEN Oliver (AG2R La Mondiale)
3 – COLBRELLI Sonny (Bahrain – McLaren)
4 – KRAGH ANDERSEN Søren (Team Sunweb)
5 – KÜNG Stefan (Groupama – FDJ)