Tour of Flanders: Tadej Pogačar delivers a masterpiece victory

Pogačar drops Van der Poel to become first Tour de France winner since Eddy Merckx to win Flanders. Mads Pedersen hits third.

Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images

Tadej Pogačar soloed to victory Sunday in a spectacular display of power, guts, and ambition to win Tour of Flanders in a stunning day of racing.

The UAE Team Emirates rider attacked relentlessly in the action-packed final hour of a crash-marred, tightly wound edition that saw Neilson Powless (EF Education-EasyPost) and Matteo Jorgenson (Movistar) both ride deep into the finale.

“It’s amazing to win here today,” Pogačar said. “This is a day I will never forget.”

An attack by Mathieu van der Poel on the Kuisberg dropped pre-race favorite Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma), who was racing with a bloodied left knee.

Pogačar surged clear on the final passage of Oude Kwaremont to gap Van der Poel, and he drove straight through the attacking Mads Pedersen (Trek Segafredo) to take the lead.

Pogačar fended off the chasing Van der Poel coming over the final climb at Paterberg, and it was a one-on-one time trial duel all the way to the line in Oudenaarde.

The Slovenian had enough in the tank to become the first Tour de France winner to win Flanders since Eddy Merckx and only the third in cycling history.

“I knew to go solo I needed to go on the Kwaremont the second time, and I just gave it all,” Pogačar said. “I almost cracked on the Paterberg, but it was the only way to make it to the finish.”

Van der Poel coasted through second in another podium finish for the rider who’s emerging as “Mr. Flanders,” with two victories, two second places, and one fourth place in five starts.

“Tadej was on a different level today. He deserves to win here,” Van der Poel said. “What he did today was really special.”

Behind them, a chasing group saved their matches for the podium, with Pedersen fending off Van Aert for third. Powless and Jorgenson impressed with fifth and ninth, respectively, in their Flanders debuts.

“When Pogi passed me on the climb, I didn’t even try to follow,” Pedersen said. “If I try to catch on, I would just pop. Sometimes you need to know your limits.”

Coming into Sunday’s race, Pogačar knew his best and perhaps only chance to win was to attack and arrive alone to Oudenaarde.

And against even tougher odds than his spectacular debut last year, Pogačar kept the foot buried on the gas pedal to drive home perhaps his most impressive victory of his already prolific career.

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Final Oude Kwaremont-Paterberg double sets up winner

Pogačar attacked when it counted to drop everyone to win a spectacular edition. (Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images)

De Ronde was set up coming into the final Kwaremont-Paterberg double with nothing decided. Here’s how things set up a brilliant finale:

Pedersen jumped out of the lead breakaway at the base of the Kuisberg to carry a 20-second lead, with Jorgenson and Powless hanging tough. Behind them, a searing attack from Van der Poel at Kuisberg was answered by Pogačar, but Van Aert — riding with a bloody knee — could not match the pace.

With Pedersen dangling off the front, two of the “big three” were caught the leaders heading onto Oude Kwaremont with everything in play. Nathan Hooydonck dropped out of the lead group to try to tow Van Aert back to the leaders before it was too late.

Pogačar pounced again, with everyone wilting in his wake.

He dropped Van der Poel, and rode straight through Pedersen. The two-time Tour de France winner carved out a 14-second on nemesis Van der Poel heading toward the Paterberg.

Unlike last year, when Van der Poel could match the Slovenian, this time it was Pogačar who had the extra gear.

Pogačar hit the bottom of the Paterberg leading by 15 seconds, and he topped over the top 15 seconds to Van der Poel, so they were equal on the final climb. It was a time trial all the way to Oudenaarde.

Pogačar lights up first Oude Kwaremont-Paterberg double

Pogačar made his move on the second of three passages over the Oude Kwaremont. (Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images)

A big group of 18 riders powered toward the first of two passages of the Oude Kwaremont-Paterberg double with everything in play.

The day’s late-forming breakaway was joined by counter-attackers to carve open a dangerous, three-minute lead to the main bunch featuring the “big three.”

Powless and Jorgenson both rode into the envious position, and with Jumbo-Visma and UAE Team Emirates both having riders present at the front, everyone was wondering how the favorites would react.

It didn’t take long to find out.

In the main group, UAE led out Pogačar who pounced on the first sector of Oude Kwaremont, and gapped Van Aert, Van der Poel, and Tom Pidcock (Ineos Grenadiers), with Christophe Laporte (Jumbo-Visma) and Nils Politt (Bora Hansgrohe) hanging on.

Pogačar quickly carved a gap to his chasing rivals, and he had teammate Matteo Trentin waiting up the road in the leading break.

Asgreen led the front group over the Paterberg, with Pogačar doggedly pushing on alone about 15 seconds ahead of Van Aert, Laporte, Van der Poel and Pidcock chasing onto the Paterberg. Laporte showed good form to bridge across to Pogačar and the lead group’s was trimmed to 1:25 heading to the Koppenberg.

Pogačar goes again on the Koppenberg

Things slightly regrouped among the chasers when Pogačar attacked again on the Koppenberg. Once again, he could drop the other “big two,” with Pidcock also staying close. This time, Pidcock couldn’t match the pure firepower, and the “Big Three” were on the march.

Up the road, Trentin and Asgreen led the pace with 43km to go, and Taaienberg looming. The gap was down to one minute, and everything was up for grabs.

Trentin continued to chug along in the leading group as Jorgenson and Powless hung tough. Behind them, the “Three Kings” zeroed in on the break. Van der Poel was slightly gapped under another Pogačar onslaught on Tom Boonen’s favored climb.

Pedersen jumped out of the front group on the Kruisberg to carve a promising gap. Behind, Van der Poel accelerated in a move that Pogačar matched, but one that put Van Aert on the ropes.

The final Oude Kwaremont-Paterberg would play kingmaker.

Powless, Jorgensen press the front

Jorgenson rode deep into Sunday’s final in his Flanders debut. (Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images)

Things really ramped up coming over the Molenberg with about 100km to go.

Powless shrugged off an earlier crash and powered clear with some elite company. Also peeling away from the top group is Matteo Trentin (UAE Team Emirates), Nathan Van Hooydonck (Jumbo-Visma), Florian Vermeesch (Lotto Dstny), Mads Pedersen (Trek Segafredo), Jhonatan Narváez (Ineos Grenadiers), former winner Kasper Asgreen (Soudal Quick-Step), Fred Wright (Bahrain Victorious), and Stefan Küng (Groupama-FDJ).

All the major teams were present except Alpecin-Deceuninck, putting some pressure on Van der Poel. Soren Kragh Andersen abandoned, leaving the two-time winner on the spot.

Digging deep to bridge across was Matteo Jorgenson (Movistar) and Benoit Cosnefroy (Ag2r-Citroën), and the race dynamic quickly changed. The chasers soon linked up with the day’s early eight-rider breakaway, and opened up a two-minute gap to the main bunch.

Two of the “big three” had teammates up the road, but it was obvious that Van Aert, Pogačar, and Van der Poel were not going to be spectactors all day long.

There was another nasty, high-speed crash as the main bunch barreled toward the Kwaremont-Paterberg double. Matej Mohorič (Bahrain Victorious) was among a half-dozen riders who slammed to the ground as it appeared someone touched wheels in the back half of the group.

Big crash topples Wellens, Sagan

Alaphilippe was among several top names taken down. (Photo: Jan de Meuleneir – Pool/Getty Images)

Disaster struck on the approach to the first of three passages up Oude Kwaremont with about 140km to go.

Bahrain Victorious rider Filip Maciejuk was riding on the left side of the road, and was either pushed or bounced off the pavement, and lost control when he bunny-hopped back onto the road. He lost control and swept right straight into the middle of the peloton.

Dozens of riders went toppling to the ground, including the likes of Jasper Stuyven (Trek Segafredo), Peter Sagan (TotalEnergies), and Tim Wellens (UAE Team Emirates), that latter two who were forced to abandon. The UCI jury quickly expelled Maciejuk from the race for his error that would mark the race.

The main group tried to regroup on the first passage over the Oude Kwaremont as an eight-man leading group widened its lead to north of 5 minutes. Moments later, Powless was caught up in a pileup, and EF jerseys quickly towed him back to the front. The group of favorites fractured, but came back together as more minor spills involved riders like Davide Ballerini (Soudal Quick-Step) as the nerves kept tightening.

Many crashes marred the men’s edition Sunday. (Photo: Jan de Meuleneir – Pool/Getty Images)

Magnus Sheffield (Ineos Grenadiers) crashed in another crossing of wheels, and Mads Pedersen (Trek Segafredo) was the first of the “bigs” to ramp things up with about 110km to go.

That created the first major fracture in the favorite’s group, and there were riders in the front group with most of the main teams making the selection. Matteo Jorgenson (Movistar), Yves Lampaert (Soudal Quick-Step), and Pogačar were present.

Early break finally forms

A fast start saw the break form very late. (Photo by Jan de Meuleneir – Pool/Getty Images)

The big buzz in Bruges on a cold Sunday morning was that everyone would be on the attack, with the idea of “anticipating” the “Three Kings.” But the group stayed together all the way to the first cobbled sector with nearly 100km into the race.

A mix of tail and crosswinds created some interesting early dynamics. Van der Poel was initially caught out when the bunch split in a crosswind sector and the speed ramped up. Valentin Madouas (Groupama-FDJ) dropped out with illness, and such riders as Danny van Poppel and Taco van der Hoorn (Intermarche-Circus-Wanty) were victims of early crashes.

A typical Flanders would see a break carrying 10 minutes into the first cobbled sectors and early climbs, but nerves kept the bunch tightly wound as anticipation built. A five-rider group finally carved out a 15-second lead but things were far from settled.

The gap grew to more than 3 minutes as Hugo Houle (Israel Premier Tech) bridged out to make it an eight-man group. Also there were Jasper De Buyst (Lotto Dstny), Daan Hoole (Trek-Segafredo), Tim Merlier (Soudal Quick-Step), Elmar Reinders (Jayco-AlUla), Jonas Rutsch (EF Education-EasyPost), Filippo Colombo (Q36.5), and Guillaume Van Keirsbulck (Bingoal-WB).

The gap finally grew out to four minutes ahead of the first passages of the Oude Kwaremont that would set the tone of what would unfold.

The men’s race was back in Bruges for the start. (Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images)

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