Cancellara's Classics Column: Van der Poel schools Pogacar with badass move

SANREMO, ITALY - MARCH 20: Dylan Van Baarle of Netherlands & Filippo Ganna of Italy and Team INEOS Grenadiers during the 112th Milano-Sanremo 2021 a 299km race from Milano to Sanremo / Cipressa (239m)/ #MilanoSanremo / La Classicissima / #UCIWT / on March 20, 2021 in Sanremo, Italy. (Photo by Tim de Waele/Getty Images)
Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) celebrates the victory at Tour of Flanders while Tadej Pogacar (UAE Team Emirates) digests the disappointment of fourth (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

Tadej Pogačar impressed me for 270 kilometres at the Tour of Flanders. Mathieu van der Poel impressed me for 300 metres. Badass – that’s the word I’d use to describe it. 

Tadej was impressive on the Koppenberg, impressive on the Kwaremont, impressive on the Taaienberg, impressive on the Paterberg. Mathieu, on the other hand, did nothing special. He was there in the right moments, he followed, but did he attack? No. 

But then it comes down to a sprint and Mathieu pulls a badass move. Amazing.

It’s all about cadence, and it’s all because they slowed right down – they were going so slow! Look at Van der Poel’s cadence and then look at Pogačar’s. 

Mathieu accelerates in Mathieu style. He has this ability to accelerate with lower gears and a higher cadence, and then he can shift up through the gears. 

Tadej was in almost the same gear the whole time, and the whole time a big gear. He maybe didn’t have enough max power to accelerate with that gear. 

If I had to guess, I’d say Mathieu was in the 53/19 and Pogačar was in the 53/14. It’s little things like that. When you lose speed, you have to be ready with certain gears – gears that help you and don’t block you. 

We can’t forget that this was Tadej’s first time at Flanders. Everyone was laughing a little, saying ah ‘Nibali tried it, Valverde tried it’. Well, today he proved those people wrong and showed that he is at least capable of winning the Tour of Flanders. 

Still, the reason why he didn’t win was perhaps his inexperience. Tadej has some sprint qualities, but not against Mathieu. He’s more of a stage racer, whereas Mathieu is a one-day racer and will simply have sprinted far more times and in far more scenarios. 

A sprint at the end of the Tour of Flanders is not a normal sprint. It’s a big poker game and you cannot really plan for it. Plus, it’s certainly not a normal sprint when you slow right down and you have two guys coming with speed from behind. I don’t think Tadej quite realised how fast they were coming, and he wasn’t able to make that acceleration from a slower speed, which is why they got the jump and boxed him in. 

It’s sad and disappointing for him but, like I said, it was badass from Van der Poel. I don’t mean that in a bad way. He wouldn’t even hurt a fly. But in a big race like this, when shit hits the fan, you need to be a warrior. These races don’t give you any excuses. 

He now has two Ronde Van Vlaanderen titles to his name. He can get three and he can get four. It depends on so many things, but I would have no problem if he is the one to reach the fourth Flanders – wow, chapeau, the sport lives for things like that.

Jumbo’s mental hurdle, Asgreen’s honesty, FDJ’s heroics

OUDENAARDE BELGIUM APRIL 03 Kasper Asgreen of Denmark and Team QuickStep Alpha Vinyl competes passing through a cobblestones sector during the 106th Ronde van Vlaanderen Tour des Flandres 2022 Mens Elite a 2725km one day race from Antwerp to Oudenaarde RVV22 WorldTour on April 03 2022 in Oudenaarde Belgium Photo by Tim de WaeleGetty Images

Kasper Asgreen and Christophe Laporte during the race (Image credit: Tim de WaeleGetty Images)

The absence of Wout van Aert changed the race but, I have to say, the way Jumbo-Visma rode in his absence was kind of disappointing. I know Laporte crashed but still, he got back in. Benoot, I don’t know. They ended up in ninth and 13th – on the one hand you can say that’s not bad, but then you look at the expectations on that team, the way they’ve been racing, and it’s clear they didn’t deliver. 

I don’t know if it was a lack of legs or a lack of mental strength. They have been dominating everything but here they didn’t do much at all. Nathan Van Hooydonck went quite early in quite an interesting breakaway, but after that, not much.

When you can ride like that for Wout van Aert you expect better when it comes to riding for themselves, but it’s always hard when your leader and the big favourite is out. Mentally, I think it was hard for them to adjust. 

QuickStep-AlphaVinyl also had another bad race. This is just not their spring. I don’t call it a terrible spring, because when you look at the problems they’ve had with illness and injuries, what can they do? Asgreen had a mechanical on the Koppenberg but he said that was irrelevant and he wasn’t able to follow Pogačar.

Chapeau for his honesty. He wasn’t good enough and he said it. He was honest and I always have respect for that. These guys are human at the end of the day. 

I’ll tell you who weren’t disappointing: Groupama-FDJ. There were amazing – individually and collectively. Valentin Madouas was the only one apart from Van der Poel who was able to follow Pogačar on the Koppenberg, and Stefan Küng put in an amazing performance behind. The whole team upped their game and were more than the sum of their parts. 

All in all, it was a superb race. It was a Hitchcock – suspense until the very end. Everyone thought it was finished but it was a reminder that it’s only finished on the finish line and not before.

Apart from that, what a crowd. The fans were back and there must have been a million people on the road from Antwerp to Oudenaarde. It was a crazy atmosphere. The organisers, volunteers, supporters, everyone deserves a pat on the back. It was an amazing festival of cycling.

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Fabian Cancellara

Fabian Cancellara is an ex-professional cyclist who raced from 2001 to 2016 for Mapei, Fassa Bortolo, CSC, and Trek. The Swiss rider was one of the top riders in the peloton during that time, picking up 88 victories during his storied career. Chief among them were three editions apiece of the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix, Milan-San Remo, eight stages of the Tour de France, four world time trial titles, and two Olympic time trial titles.