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HARELBEKE, Belgium (VN) — Even though Wout van Aert won the E3 Saxo Classic, Mathieu van der Poel came out of the spring classic in good spirits.
He proved he’s ready for “Holy Week” with cycling monuments Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix coming up next. One week after his picture-perfect solo victory in Milano-Sanremo, the 28 year-old Dutch rider showed that he’s approaching his best level.
“This was fun. If I would’ve missed out on the victory in Sanremo and today again, then it would’ve been more difficult to deal with it,” he said.
“Anyway, I really would’ve liked to win here because it’s still missing out on my palmares. I’m a little bit disappointed but I try to focus on the good sensations I felt during the race.
“I preferred to be one step higher on the podium but the sensations during the race today couldn’t have been much better. My work is done. Now I only need to train well a couple of times, recover and approach the next races in a relaxed way.”
The fans who skipped work Friday started celebrating a splendid race with a big party and possibly a few beers.
Blowing up the race
Van der Poel and Van Aert blew the race apart on the Taaienberg, at a massive 80km from the finish line.
“I’m not hiding that this is the style of racing I like. Going to the decisive climbs in a small group because there’s less pushing around,” he said.
“The positioning went really well today. The course really suits this style of racing. You’re riding from one key point to another. The wind wasn’t favorable, otherwise it would’ve been decided even earlier. In hindsight I can only be satisfied.
“I wanted a long and hard finale. When that’s the case you see that the strongest riders survive in front. It’s the most fun way to race.”
Another strong rider who survived was a certain Tadej Pogačar whose performance left Van der Poel impressed.
“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. That’s really special because we haven’t seen that often in the past,” Van der Poel said.
Racing for primes
After crossing the final climb, the Tiegemberg, the duo was spotted laughing when Van Aert accelerated to get to the top in first position.
“He had to laugh because Van Aert picked up a prime at the top of the Tiegem. I didn’t know about that. Was it a bathroom? I’m expecting to get a water tap in return. Maybe he’s rebuilding his house,” Van der Poel laughed and then referred to the countless amounts of bathroom gear he won at the Hansgrohe cyclocross races.
“A few years ago I won a lot of Hansgrohe gear. But hey, as hero of the day (most aggressive rider) I received €2000 and credit to take gas the whole year. That’s probably even better.”
Who would’ve guessed that these giants would care about the side dishes in these classics.
Mathieu van der Poel, Wout van Aert and Todaj Pogačar have raced 35 monuments between them.
Number of times any of them finished outside the top 10: 5
Number of times any of them finished outside the top 10 since August 2020: 0
— Daniel Lloyd (@daniellloyd1) March 20, 2023
Van der Poel was asked if he had any regrets about the lost sprint.
Sprints between Van der Poel and Van Aert are unpredictable but this time Van Aert left no doubt about who was fastest.
“I think Wout was just a little bit stronger in the sprint. During the race I might have been a bit too enthusiastic but that’s the way I like to race and I don’t think I could’ve done something else today. It was a fair sprint. The three of us started sprinting more or less at the same moment. I couldn’t even come level to him so he’s the deserved winner,” Van der Poel said.
The strongest rider won?
A journalist asked him if one can conclude that Van Aert is faster?
“Today, yes.” He was then asked if the strongest rider won the race. “I don’t know [laughs]. I certainly felt like I was among the strongest riders during the race. The winner is always right.” On the Oude Kwaremont Pogacar and Van der Poel nearly dropped Van Aert. Maybe he underestimated his Belgian rival.
“He proved that he can recover from a difficult moment and still sprint well. It’s not like I didn’t expect it. I did feel that my legs were running out of gas. It’s been a good impulse towards next week’s race.”
The Alpecin-Deceuninck team performed really well and Van der Poel even had a teammate up front in the finale with Soren Kragh Andersen.
“It’s really nice for me and I think for him as well. It happened the way I predicted it would happen. It allows me to race in a more relaxed way. We did everything right. Someone was stronger in the sprint. I can’t turn that around. Hopefully next week it’ll be the other way around.”
When asked if he learned something during the E3 Saxo Classic with regards to the Ronde, Van der Poel said that wasn’t the case.
“Not much. Nothing that I didn’t know. There were two big names with me up front. The major difference is that the Kwaremont and Paterberg after 240km of racing will hurt a bit more. More is possible there,” he said. “It’s closer to the finish as well. Obviously these are the two guys I expect to feature up front in the Ronde.”