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Van der Poel: It was a bit of a shock to see Tour of Flanders final play out like that

Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) celebrates his win at the Tour of Flanders
Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) celebrates his win at the Tour of Flanders (Image credit: ERIC LALMANDBELGA MAGAFP via Getty Images)

After a hectic final kilometre at the Tour of Flanders it was Mathieu van der Poel who came out on top for the second time in three years having played a perfect tactical game on the run to the line in Oudenaarde.

The Dutchman had looked all set for yet another two-man sprint finish after riding the final kilometres alongside Tadej Pogačar at the front of the race, but Van der Poel slowed the pace late on before launching his sprint.

Van der Poel backed up his rival so much that the Slovenian was swamped by the chase group at 250 metres to go, leaving him free at the front of the group to sprint for a second Tour of Flanders victory.

"They were coming really fast from behind, so I decided to sprint from far by myself," he explained after the finish. "He went up Oude Kwaremont and Pater[berg] really fast. I was almost at the point of dropping. At the end it was a scenario I've had three times before, so I knew it already. I was only taking Tadej into account.

"It was amazing that he was busy with me and not with the others coming back. It was a bit of a shock to see it play out like that."

Pogačar would eventually end up in fourth place at the line as Dylan Van Baarle (Ineos Grenadiers) and Valentin Madouas (Groupama-FDJ) shot past to fill the rest of the podium. Before that final poker game with 13km to go, however, Pogačar had put Van der Poel in trouble with his pace up the race's final hill, the fearsome Paterberg.

"I've never had so much lactic acid [as on the Paterberg], but I knew I had to get over on his wheel," Van der Poel said. "I had no choice. I just tried to recover a little bit every time I was in the wheel, but I was just hurting a lot. I've worked extremely hard for it and I just went 100 per cent. I'm really happy it has worked out.

"On Kwaremont and Paterberg I was really trying to hold the wheel of Tadej. He was incredibly strong up there. Especially the Paterberg was really on the limit for me. But then I had a few kilometres to get the legs back turning and focus on the sprint.

"He was maybe strongest in the race, and he rode offensively. I would've applauded him if he had won or finished on the podium. Maybe he just needs to sprint here a few more times to get it right."

Van der Poel's victory comes just three weeks after making his season debut at Milan-San Remo following a long period of rehabilitation from a lingering back issue.

At the start of March it was reported that he would be back in time to race Flanders, but he returned ahead of schedule and in time to take victory at his biggest goal of the sprint – alongside Paris-Roubaix in two weeks' time.

"It's incredible. I worked so hard for this one," he said. "At first it wasn't even sure if I would get to the Classics and to win Ronde after Dwars door Vlaanderen is incredible.

"First I'm going to enjoy this one," he replied when asked about Roubaix. "I worked incredibly hard to be here and I have a lot of people to thank. I'm going to enjoy it with them."

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Daniel Ostanek
Daniel Ostanek

Daniel Ostanek is production editor at Cyclingnews, having joined in 2017 as a freelance contributor and later being hired as staff writer. Before Cyclingnews, he was published in numerous publications around the cycling world, including Procycling, CyclingWeekly, CyclingTips, Cyclist, and Rouleur, among others. As well as reporting and writing news and features, Daniel runs the 'How to watch' content throughout the season.

Daniel has reported from the world's top races, including the Tour de France, and has interviewed a number of the sport's biggest stars, including Egan Bernal, Wout van Aert, Remco Evenepoel, Mark Cavendish, and Anna van der Breggen. Daniel rides a 2002 Landbouwkrediet Colnago C40 and his favourite races are Strade Bianche and the Vuelta a España.