Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) took a sensational victory at the Tour of Flanders after going toe to toe with a formidable Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates), whose rare moment of tactical weakness in the last kilometre saw him finish off the podium.
The snow that spiced up race recon seemed a distant memory on the bone dry roads between Antwerp and Oudenaarde, although a full wardrobe of thermal layers was required early in the day. Sharp shadows joined the nine strong riders who made the day’s break, which stayed away until deep into the bergs.
The first real danger came not far inside the last 100 km when a 13-strong chase group formed after the Berendries climb. Among their number were two riders each for Jumbo-Visma, Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl, Bora-Hansgrohe and Trek-Segafredo, along with first-year pro Ben Turner (Ineos Grenadiers) and 2019 Flanders champion Alberto Bettiol (EF Education-EasyPost). The peloton was a little slow to neutralise the threat, but the group and original breakaway were brought well within reach by 55 km to go, where Tadej Pogačar threw down the gauntlet.
The double Tour de France champion pinged out of the peloton as it hit the cobbled climb of the Oude Kwaremont, and like the avatar in an arcade game, he wove through the day’s earlier attackers at a ferocious speed. By the top of the climb, he led an elite group with a small gap over the fractured bunch.
Just before Pogačar’s group was joined by the reduced peloton, Dylan van Baarle (Ineos Grenadiers) and Fred Wright (Bahrain-Victorious) jumped clear and carried a slender advantage onto the infamous Koppenburg. 25 seconds later, Pogačar slammed on the accelerator once again, and Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) and Valentin Madouas (Groupama-FDJ) were the only riders who could match his pace up the jagged cobbles.
By 35 km to go, just three cobbled climbs yet to take on, there were five strong riders leading the race with a gap of 42 seconds, two of the day’s big favourites working well with the others to maintain their advantage.
As the rain began to fall, Pogačar dealt another inevitable blow on the Oude Kwaremont, jettisoning all but Van der Poel who proved unshakeable, despite a sketchy moment on the final climb of the Paterberg, as the pair rode into the last 15 km together.
It looked certain that the Tour of Flanders would be decided in a two-up sprint, but chasers Madouas and Van Baarle were apparently much closer than Pogačar thought. He successfully forced Van der Poel to lead from the front, but with two riders charging them down at far greater pace, the Slovenian waited far too long. Van der Poel sprinted from the front with enough power to take the win, and he was joined on the podium by Van Baarle and Madouas, while Pogačar found himself boxed in and heading for the bus.
Ronde van Vlaanderen - Tour des Flandres ME (1.UWT) Antwerp → Oudenaarde