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Tadej Pogačar looked set to become the first Tour de France winner since Eddy Merckx to take the champagne at Tour of Flanders when he galloped toward Oudenaarde with Mathieu van der Poel in his wheel.
The Slovenian supremo animated the final hour of the race with a series of searing attacks and looked destined to win De Ronde with a history-making ride Sunday.
Only it all came undone in the final 250 meters when a miscued sprint saw Pogačar finish out of the frame and off the podium in fourth.
“Disappointed? I couldn’t do my sprint the way I wanted. I was closed in,” Pogačar told reporters at the finish. “That is cycling – sometimes it happens.”
Pogačar sat on race-winner van der Poel’s wheel as the dazzling duo loomed toward the line in Oudenaarde on Sunday afternoon.
The Slovenian waited on his rival to open up the final kick only to find himself swamped by Dylan van Baarle and Valentin Madous after the twosome completed an against-the-odds chase from 30-seconds back.
Pogačar saw the road close in front of him and raised his arms in frustration. He was still seen fuming in the minutes after the race was done.
“I’m not angry with the other riders. I’m frustrated with myself that I couldn’t go all the way,” he said. “They came next to me and I tried to accelerate, but there was not enough left in my legs. Mathieu was really good and we were evenly matched.”
Pogačar may not have hit the podium, but he more than made his presence felt at his first northern monument.
The 23-year-old looked every inch the experienced cobble-basher on the climbs and wasn’t found out of position in the way he was when he made his first-ever cobbled classic start at Dwars door Vlaanderen earlier this week.
Will he be coming back in 2023?
He most certainly is.
“Yes, for sure. The atmosphere gave me goosebumps. I love this race,” he said.