Despite expectations of long-distance attacks, the 87th edition of Flèche Wallonne followed the traditional script, and it all came down to the final stampede up the Mur de Huy.
Pogačar was still in traffic when he finally managed one race-winning attack to fend off the bunch to win for the first time at Flèche Wallonne.
“I left it all on the final climb, it’s so hard but it’s a spectacular finish,” Pogačar said. “The work of the team made the difference, it gives me a lot of morale when my teammates do such an amazing job and today their work gave me an extra motivation.
“There were moments in which the race was nervous. I also almost crashed, but the team did a very good job, keeping me in the front. We were aware that we would have needed to pull the peloton from the beginning, it was all on us to make the race demanding in the end and it was as planned.”
Mattias Skjelmose (Trek-Segafredo) and Mikel Landa (Bahrain Victorious) rounded out the podium, with Michael Woods (Israel Premier Tech) coming through fourth.
High speeds and blustering winds kept the favorites group together over the final lap, and the remnants of an early break were swept up for 1,000-meter uphill sprint.
Pogačar and his UAE Team Emirates teammates hovered at the front all day, but never budged until the Mur.
Magnus Sheffield, celebrating his 21st birthday, led the bunch onto the lower steep ramps. Woods and Pogačar were well-positioned, and Woods was still at the front with 400m to go when Romain Bardet (Team DSM) almost ran into his rear wheel.
Pogačar looked almost blocked until he exploded with under 200m to go. No one could answer, and he blazed across the line victorious to back up his win at Amstel Gold Race on Sunday.
Tom Pidcock (Ineos Grenadiers) said he paid for the efforts Sunday at Amstel Gold Race, when he dug deep to finish third behind the winning Pogačar, and could only must 18th.
“I think this is where [Pogačar] is beatable on this climb, but today it was not me,” Pidcock said. “I was not good today. I just didn’t have any explosivity. I went really deep on Sunday and I haven’t recovered. I think I can win this race on my day, but I didn’t have the strength when it really mattered.”
Pogačar’s victory sets up a possible Ardennes treble on Sunday and a showdown against defending champion Remco Evenepoel (Soudal Quick-Step) at Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
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Following the script early
If anyone was expecting a long-distance bomb from Pogačar, they tuned in too early.
The first two of three passages over the Mur played out to script. Taking a page from the traditional playbook, an early move peeled away, with an eight-rider group forging clear. The gap was about 1 minute to the favorites over the first passage up the Mur de Huy.
Georg Zimmermann (Intermarché-Circus-Wanty) and Søren Kragh Andersen (Alpecin Deceuninck) were the last two standing, nursing a lead of about 50 seconds going into the bell lap. Crosswinds and tailwinds played a factor in the closing lap.
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Louis Vervaeke (Soudal Quick-Step) and Samuele Battistella (Astana-Qazaqstan) jumped on the second ascent of the Mur, and zeroed in on the leaders with about 30km to go. The four linked up as the race powered toward the final key climbs with the main pack still largely intact.
UAE Team Emirates ceded its place at the front of the peloton as Jumbo-Visma and EF Education-EasyPost muscled in.
Everything was left to play out in the closing 25km.
A crash took out Neilson Powless (EF Education-EasyPost) at about 21km to go, knocking the American out of position going into the most decisive moments. At the front, Sam Oomen (Jumbo-Visma) on the Côte d’Ereffe (2.1km à 5.5%) with about 20km to go, but nothing stuck.
Things came to a head at the Côte de Cherave (1.3km à 7.6%) with the leading trio still dangling off the front at 40 seconds with about 7km to go.
Vervaeke was the last rider off the front as the leaders inevitably tightened the grip, and carried a gap all the way to Huy.
Despite expectations of long-distance attacks, it all came down to the final stampede up the Mur de Huy.
The spring classics wrap up Sunday with Liège-Bastogne-Liège. Follow updates and breaking news all week at VeloNews.com.