Alpecin-Fenix’s Mathieu van der Poel added another chapter to his brilliant career by outlasting UAE’s Tour de France champion Tadej Pogačar following a lengthy duel to win his second Ronde van Vlaanderen. The win places van der Poel, just 27 years old, one win shy of joining the sextet of all-time winners in Flanders with three each, most recently joined by Fabian Cancellara and Tom Boonen. INEOS’ Dylan van Baarle clawed back second place in the sprint just ahead of FDJ’s Valentin Madouas.
The win came down to a four-rider sprint, but that was just one configuration involving Pogačar and van der Poel in the final hour. The pair got away on the Koppenberg with FDJ’s Valentin Madouas for an elite trio, who were then chasing down van Baarle and Bahrain’s Fred Wright, catching them for a leading quartet for the final phase of climbs. Then Pogačar, who had been the smoothest and strongest climber in the last hour despite only appearing in Flanders for the first time, accelerated from the front of the group on the Oude Kwaremont and only van der Poel could follow. The two few up the cobbles in an explosion of power, distancing their chasers by 25+ seconds. On the Paterberg Pogačar again flexed his climbing prowess and stretched van der Poel to his very limit, forcing the Dutchman to wobble slightly as he dug deep into his reserves. But despite having seven race days in his legs in 2022 following his recovery from a back injury, van der Poel was up to the task.
Now it was these two great champions putting their stamp on the race, the 2020 winner here and the emerging do-it-all superstar Slovenian staging a battle of styles and substance that has rarely been seen in De Ronde since the Merckx Era. Behind them, FDJ’s Stefan Kung had launched a chase from the best-of-the-rest group, threatening to broaden the race for the podium, even if it seemed like the first two places were gone. Madouas and van Baarle hung on gamely in between the Kung attack and the two leaders, though. So as they all hit the red kite, and the jockeying for the sprint began, no less than four different groups were visible on the road.
Shockingly, van der Poel and Pogačar slowed down so significantly that by the time they opened up their sprint, Madouas and van Baarle had enough speed to join the effort. Now van der Poel had hit the gas and was on the front, holding off everyone, while the chasers came around both sides of Pogačar and boxed him out of any countermove. Van der Poel rocketed across the line, a hand on the air, taking the victory while van Baarle had enough speed on the right side to take second from Madouas, while Pogačar threw up his hands in disgust looking despondent as he crossed for fourth. Kung and Dylan Teuns came next for fifth and sixth, two seconds back, then Wright, while a larger group led by Mads Pedersen at 48” cleaned up the rest of the top ten.
Pogačar will have serious regrets as to his tactics in the sprint, given that he was looking at a win which would make him a true patron of cycling at the ripe old age of 23. In hindsight, though, replays showed that he did not have the closing speed to match van der Poel, so he likely was looking at no better than second place even if he had played things differently.
Van der Poel, for his part, showed some tactical brilliance throughout the day — not something he is always credited with. He remained focused on and within range of Pogačar throughout the Slovenian’s numerous accelerations which defined much of the race. He timed his sprint correctly as well, and if he lucked into a little help when van Baarle and Madouas boxed Pogačar in, he did so knowing he had a winning hand to play in his sprint. The former Cyclocross World Champion spoke afterwards about Pogačar pushing him to his limit on the final climbs, starting to but never quite cracking, but then finding some recovery in the flats after the Paterberg to regain his superior sprint.
Kudos to van Baarle and his INEOS team who looked like the top squad and got rewarded with a tremendous second place, albeit a bit of a fluke and really the most you can say about van Baarle is that he was probably the third best rider on the day. But they kept up with a strong FDJ plan, left Trek and Jumbo-Visma behind, and got a fantastic result. Madouas’ podium place was well earned by his team too.
Pedersen’s 8th place was the best Trek could manage, and that was at the end of an aggressive day that saw him join a dangerous attack with former winner Alberto Bettiol of EF prior to the final phase of climbs. For Jumbo, Christophe Laporte took ninth after crashing and having to chase back on. They clearly missed Wout Van Aert and rarely had much to say at the front of the race. This will go as a major disappointment and missed opportunity. With luck, the Wout and Matti rivalry will resume in Paris-Roubaix.
- VAN DER POEL Mathieu, Alpecin-Fenix
- VAN BAARLE Dylan, INEOS Grenadiers, s.t.
- MADOUAS Valentin, Groupama - FDJ, s.t.
- POGAČAR Tadej, UAE Team Emirates, s.t.
- KÜNG Stefan, Groupama - FDJ, at 0.02
- TEUNS Dylan, Bahrain - Victorious, s.t.
- WRIGHT Fred, Bahrain - Victorious, at 0.11
- PEDERSEN Mads, Trek - Segafredo, at 0.48
- LAPORTE Christophe, Jumbo-Visma, s.t.
- , KRISTOFF Alexander, Intermarché - Wanty - Gobert Matériaux, s.t.
- MATTHEWS Michael, Team BikeExchange - Jayco, s.t.
- TRATNIK Jan, Bahrain - Victorious, s.t.
- BENOOT Tiesj, Jumbo-Visma, s.t.
- PIDCOCK Thomas, INEOS Grenadiers, s.t.
- VAN AVERMAET Greg, AG2R Citroën Team, s.t.
- VAN POPPEL Danny, BORA - hansgrohe
- LOUVEL Matis, Team Arkéa Samsic
- DEGENKOLB John, Team DSM
- TEUNISSEN Mike, Jumbo-Visma
- ARANBURU Alex, Movistar Team
- MOHORIČ Matej, Bahrain - Victorious
- GARCÍA CORTINA Iván, Movistar Team
- ASGREEN Kasper, Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl Team
- CAPIOT Amaury, Team Arkéa Samsic
- MOZZATO Luca, B&B Hotels - KTM2015
Antwerpen - Oudenaarde 273 km
Time for the big one. Best day of the year?
Expected finish: 16:30 - 17:10 CEST
Mooiste of the Day: Mathieu van der Poel
I just think there are no surprises here. In the end he is the best of the field.