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Wout van Aert won big, Mathieu van der Poel came close, and Tadej Pogačar did what Tadej Pogačar does. Those are the headlines coming out of Friday’s popcorn-worthy edition of E3 Saxo Classic.
But what are the bits ‘n’ bobs that didn’t produce the column inches?
Why was Wout carrying a big duck around the podium? Did Movistar really go better than Quick-Step? And what’s the deal with the chain oil chatter?
- Matteo Jorgenson sets best US result in E3 Saxo Bank debut with fourth
- Van der Poel finds sunshine in E3 Saxo Classic loss
Here’s your scrapbook of takeaways and oddities from the race touted “The mini Tour of Flanders“:
Van Aert wins big in the bathroom department
Wout van Aert wasn’t thinking about victory when he attacked Friday on the Tiegemberg. He was thinking about his bathroom.
Van Aert topped the asphalt slope ahead of Tadej Pogačar and Mathieu van der Poel to scoop a prime of €3,000 in bathroom fittings from sponsor X2O.
“I saw that Mathieu and Tadej didn’t know about it, so I decided not to tell them,” Van Aert said of his prime-winning acceleration. “A prize like that is always a nice bonus.”
But what would Wout do with some $3,200USD of toilet, shower, and bathware? Seems there are no bathroom renovations on his agenda right now, so Van Aert is sharing the spoils.
“We had a little fun at the Tiegem because Wout took the premium,” Van der Poel joked. “Tadej and I didn’t know about it, so we confronted Wout about it. He said he was going to divide the bounty among the three of us.”
Until Wout peruses his local bathroom store, he’ll just have to make do with the big X2O-branded plastic duck he was handed on the podium.
Pogačar’s tribute to Flanders
Grand tour topper Pogačar is a relative Flanders rookie, but he sure knows how to pay homage to the hallowed roads of Belgium’s north.
After last year’s long ride in the break at Dwars door Vlaanderen and barnstorming debut at De Ronde, the calendar-slaying Slovenian lit up E3 on Friday with surges across the iconic cobbles of the Paterberg and Oude Kwarement.
Pogačar’s antics on the most famous climbs of the classics put cobblestone masters Wout van Aert and Mathieu van der Poel in the hurt-box and got Flemmish fans into a frothing frenzy of excitement.
“Tadej was the most special rider up front because he’s winning the Tour de France and still comes to play his role in the classics,” Van der Poel said after the race. “That’s really special because we haven’t seen that often in the past,”
Pogačar’s attacking antics came relatively unrewarded with a third-place finish, a result that is nonetheless his best in a northern classic to date.
His bombastic ride Friday set the tone for Tour of Flanders to come and shows his intent to race his own way, no matter what.
It’s a punk rock vibe that seems to perfectly encapsulate the utter chaos that comes with the cobbles.
Chain-oil kerfuffle comes out clean
Images of Wout van Aert getting a mid-race re-lube caused a social media kerfuffle Friday.
A Jumbo-Visma team car pulled alongside its captain while the Belgian jousted with Tadej Pogačar and Mathieu van der Poel deep into the final of Friday’s race.
A brave and steady-handed staffer leaned out, squirted some oil onto Van Aert’s chain, and set him on the way toward Harelbeke and E3 victory.
Eagle-eyed rulebook aficionados quickly pointed out UCI regulations ruling against chain lube being applied while on the move. If enforced, Van Aert could have been stripped of victory by race officials.
“It was a gear-shifting problem that I didn’t want to suffer from in the sprint. The chain did not shift properly to the right (through to the smaller sprockets – ed.),” Van Aert explained after the race.
“I had been suffering from it for a long time. The final started 100 kilometers from the finish, so I didn’t have the chance to go to the team car. I suspect someone hit my derailleur.”
Belgian outlets Sporza and Het Nieuwsblad report the incident caused some confab among the race’s UCI officials but was eventually overlooked. Van Aert was deemed to receive no additional benefit from the support and wasn’t spotted clinging to the speeding support car.
Storm in an oily teacup, it seems.
Quick-Step made to look like boy cubs by Movistar
That blue jerseys you saw finish fourth and fifth Friday weren’t those of Soudal Quick-Step. They were the “M” clad uniforms of Movistar duo Matteo Jorgenson and Iván García Cortina.
The infamous “Wolfpack,” kings of the cobbles and harvester of classics, saw its top rider Yves Lampaert finish 16th in Harelbeke, with Davide Ballerini next-best in 28th.
That’s right, the climber-focussed Spanish crew outraced the one-time bosses of Belgium on its home roads. It was a result that continued Quick-Step’s ongoing collapse out of its former classics throne.
“During the E3 Classic I had a tasty lunch in restaurant Castor in Waregem, two Michelin stars. With that, we had everything that was good yesterday – the food. The performance of the team was below par,” Quick Step boss Lefevere wrote Saturday in Het Nieuwsblad.
After a drubbing at “Opening Weekend,” and some tactical trauma at Brugges-De Panne, Lefevere unleashed his infamous wrath in his regular weekend column.
“I said my thoughts on the bus. As always without shouting,” he wrote.
“I heard from Kasper Asgreen: ‘I did my best.’ From Florian Sénéchal: I fell. From Julian Alaphilippe: ‘Woke up with abdominal pain and mild fever.’ What do you want me to say to that? If you have a fever, don’t start. And I have to do my best at the end of the month.”
Not exactly the form I hoped to have for @E3SaxoClassic but ! My shape is coming up and will try again on Sunday ⚒️
— Kasper Asgreen (@k_asgreen) March 24, 2023
Stories of Quick-Step’s classics woes have become a trend in recent years.
The team increasingly pivoted toward Remco Evenepoel and his GC ambitions, and it’s paid off with Vuelta a España victory and favorites’ status for the Giro d’Italia. Meanwhile, its one-day unit is without a leader and in need of a salvatory victory.
It’s not likely to become a one-day powerhouse anytime soon. But that a squad associated with swarthy Spanish climbers topped Quick-Step deep in filthy Flanders points toward a trend Lefevere seems slow to accept.
“I went solo just for a little bit after the Taaienberg just to get ahead of the race a little bit,” Movistar’s U.S. talent Jorgenson said. “Another group came up and I stayed with the big guys. With Cortina fifth, I think we did the best we could.”
Can Pidcock bring Ineos up to the ‘Galacticos’ at De Ronde?
Ineos Grenadiers hammered hard Friday but couldn’t strike home in a show of force that needed one final blow.
After Tim Pidcock stunned at Strade Bianche and Filippo Ganna leveled up to the three “Galacticos” at Milan-San Remo, the British grand tour toppers again impressed Friday with riders like Ganna and Ben Turner.
So what happens when Pidcock returns from concussion – possibly in time for De Ronde – and racers like Magnus Sheffield and Michal Kwiatkowski join him?
Pidcock may have a hard time hitting the level of Tadej Pogačar, Wout van Aert, and Mathieu van der Poel when he returns to racing. But Ineos Grenadiers looks intent on giving him the best platform possible as it increasingly pivots away from the mountain train and marginal gains of GC racing and toward the unbridled chaos of the classics.
Why E3 champions never win Gent-Wevelgem
The past four winners of E3 Saxo Classic failed to win Gent-Wevelgem 48 hours later.
Wout van Aert, Kasper Asgreen, Zdenek Stybar, and Niki Terpstra all either sat out the sprinter-suited Wevelgem race or came up short in the Sunday monument-length marathon.
Greg van Avermaet was last to pull the elusive 72-hour double. Maybe grizzled Greg can handle his Kwaremont better than those that won E3’s beer bucket behind him.
Anything can happen in the carnage of the classics.
— Renaud Breban (@RenaudB31) March 24, 2023
Here’s hoping all involved came away unscathed.