I wrote before the Tour of Flanders that if Pogacar can bring down Mathieu van der Poel and Wout van Aert, that would be a huge thing. And he did it. What he achieved today, the way he rode, will go down in history.
For Tadge, the harder it gets, the easier it gets. What I mean by that is, when the race is tough, the strength of the strongest rider will come out, and the others will blow up early. The better you are, the less you have to worry about. If you are tired, others will be more tired. Mentally, you must be strong, but the harder it is for everyone, the easier it will be for you.
This Tour of Flanders was challenging throughout. It was a crazy race, right from the start – even before the start, with terrible weather the last days. Then you do the first 100km in two hours and everyone is within the time they have to leave the breakaway.
The wind was stronger than expected and that had an effect. It looked very tense in the group, and the first part of the race was just a crash fest. The first hours were very intense, and that will certainly have an effect later on, especially when you’re racing for 274km – longer than usual in a Tour of Flanders.
The second thing is that once the race gets really tough, Tadge makes it even harder by accelerating from the bottom to the top of every major climb. This is a Tour de France winner and he needs to use every inch of the climb to his advantage, to turn it into a watts per kilogram game as much as possible. Oude Kwaremont is the prime example – the longest climb in the race. They did this three times and there was only a cobblestone that was barely attacking.
I definitely expected Tadej to go full power from bottom to top dropping everyone on the last lap, but I didn’t expect him to go right away the second time around. Given the state of the race, he kind of had to.
That big, dangerous group had left and had three minutes. I thought it wasn’t over yet. “No, it can’t be over,” I said out loud. Then Emirates came up and went full fuel on Courmont, the race blew up, and Tadge was gone. When Laporte joined him, the race looked very interesting – he was in front but it was a gamble.
In the end, it comes back up and Tadej still makes the dent on Koppenberg, Wout falls on Kruisberg, Mathieu falls on Kwaremont, and it’s over. What more can I say? There is simply no argument that the stronger man won the race. He is the deserved winner of the Tour of Flanders.
Wout van Aert was the most frustrating of the so-called “big three”. In my opinion, the best team of the day in the way of riding was Jumbo-Visma. The only thing was that in the end, Wout couldn’t finish him. Putting Nathan Van Hooydonck on the road and not working was a nice move, then sending Christophe Laporte to Tadej after the first Kwaremont was even better. At that point in the race, Mathieu was forced into defensive mode.
But I don’t know what went wrong. I saw Wout ride a lot in the back, even at the start. Riding in the back with that wind and craziness, I don’t know if that’s a good idea. Maybe it’s bad karma. To win a bike race you have to have the legs but I also believe in karma, I believe in looking for your luck at the front.
For Wout the wait continues, but I still think he will win the Tour of Flanders. Next year he will be 29 – the same age I won for the first time.
As for Matthew, I don’t know how much he’s been playing today. There were a few times when he fell a bit – once when he had a chain issue at Taaienberg and again when he didn’t look as strong as he did when he dropped Wout on Kruisberg. The first time at Kwaremont, or even at Koppenberg, I don’t know if he was playing – to make people wonder if he was feeling good – or if it was on purpose. In the end, his attack on Kruisberg was impressive. I think it definitely surprised everyone there. Sure enough, Woot was caught off guard and so was Tadje. With the legs he had, he wouldn’t have had to close any gap if he had expected this acceleration for Matthew.
Matthew may have ultimately paid the price for the effort on Kwaremont, but then again, he probably needed to do it, because they needed to catch those guys up front. I thought he rode a good race but in the end, he was beaten by a better rider that day.
For the rest, I was curious as to who would go in the early moves. Well, it turns out a lot of them. Realistically, anticipation was the only way to get a chance there, and a lot of riders went off with the same battle plan. The men in that front group unloaded themselves and could all walk away with their heads held high. People doubted we could defeat the Big Three, but we weren’t far from it.
Special mention to Mads Pedersen. The way the guy rode deserves to be on the podium because he dared and tried. Of course, he paid the price for the effort, but he was the guy who took the risk, so he’s a deserving guy up there on the podium with Tadej and Wout.
A footnote, it was a special move from the DSM, going very slowly on a Kortekeer and then sprinting. Nice try, but in the end I didn’t find DSM at all on top.
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