Tour of Flanders: Mathieu van der Poel claims record third title with 45km solo

World champion in a league of his own, attacking on the Koppenberg and turning the race into a one-man show

Clock14:28, Sunday 31st March 2024
Mathieu van der Poel celebrates his third victory at the Tour of Flanders

© Getty Images

Mathieu van der Poel celebrates his third victory at the Tour of Flanders

Mathieu van der Poel made history at the Tour of Flanders, taking a record-equalling third title and doing it in style, with a 45km solo show.

The world champion, who previously won the Ronde in 2020 and 2022, took flight on the super steep and super slippery slopes of the Koppenberg, where all but three of the favourites were forced to dismount and proceed on foot.

Matteo Jorgenson (Visma-Lease a Bike) was seven seconds in arrears after the Koppenberg but couldn’t shut the gap ahead of the Steenbeekdries and Taaienberg, where Van der Poel turned the race into a procession.

By the time he’d tamed the Oude Kruisberg and Hotond, he’d opened a lead of 1:45 over a ragged collection of chasers, and he made no mistake over the final climbs of the Oude Kwaremont and Paterberg, before steadily ticking off the 13km run-in to Oudenaarde.

Dylan Teuns (Israel-Premier Tech) and Alberto Bettiol (EF Education-EasyPost) appeared destined for the minor podium positions after going clear of the rest ahead of the Kwaremont and Paterberg but were agonisingly caught by a 10-man chasing group inside the final 100 metres.

Luca Mozzato (Arkéa-B&B Hotels) won the sprint from that group to claim the biggest result of his career to date, edging out Michael Matthews (Jayco-AlUla), who opened from range, faded and was eventually relegated for drifting too far from the left. Nils Politt (UAE Team Emirates), unhappy at being impeded, was duly bumped up to the second Monument podium of his career.

It was a day to forget for Visma-Lease a Bike, who were forced to ride without Wout van Aert and had no riders in the top 10, despite Matteo Jorgenson initially appearing the best of the rest. Lidl-Trek did put Tom Skujins in 10th but burnt their best chance as Mads Pedersen embarked on a long-range foray that ultimately proved fruitless.

The race in a nutshell

In the absence of Wout van Aert, Van der Poel was the outstanding favourite, and he duly delivered, making it look easy as he cruised clear and crushed the opposition.

It hadn't always looked that straightforward. Visma-Lease a Bike, defiant in the absence of their leader, looked to open the race early, with Matteo Jorgenson attacking on the Wolvenberg before Tiesj Benoot and Dylan van Baarle looked to open gaps in a chaotic phase of the race.

Lidl-Trek were similarly diminished but similarly keen to get involved, and Mads Pedersen, who beat Van der Poel at Gent-Wevelgem, launched a big attack on the Molenberg 100km from home. However, the former world champion ended up burning his own matches.

He then found himself in a dangerous group with Van Baarle and Benoot, but Van der Poel safely negotiated the conundrum, setting his team to reduce the gap before jumping across on the Valkenberg. As he did, Pedersen immediately attacked but was marked by Van der Poel's teammate Gianni Vermeersch. Alpecin encouraged Vermeersch to work with Pedersen, who spent the best part of 30km going all-in, to little reward.

Alpecin returned to control the race and reduce the gap by the second ascent of the Oude Kwaremont, and Van der Poel ripped past Pedersen in a statement of intent, as the group of favourites was whittled down into a selection for the first real time.

A group of around 15 formed beyond the first ascent of the Paterberg, but once they hit the Koppenberg, Van der Poel took flight and it became a one-sided exhibition.

The early phases and the early moves

The riders gathered in Antwerp for the atmospheric pre-race presentation in Antwerp, with crisp temperatures and blue in the sky. That would not last, however, with leaden skies starting to gather above the Flemish Ardennes. It only took a few kilometres for the days’ breakaway to form, but a lot longer for it to establish itself.

The riders who went clear were: Bert Van Lerberghe (Soudal Quick-Step), Luke Durbridge (Jayco-AlUla), Elmar Reinders (Jayco-AlUla), David Dekker (Arkéa-B&B Hotels), Damien Touzé (Decathlon AG2R La Mondiale), Stanisław Aniołkowski (Cofidis), Lionel Taminiaux (Lotto Dstny), and Jelle Vermoote (Bingoal WB). They only took several kilometres to get away, but it wasn’t until 45 were on the clock, and nearly an hour expired, that they were finally let off the leash following constant waves of accelerations off the front of the bunch.

The breakaway established a lead of four minutes, which could and perhaps should have been five, were it not for a hold-up at a level crossing. They took that lead over the cobbles of the Lippenhovestraat and Padestraaat - the first difficulties of the day - and then onto the first of the three ascents of the Oude Kwaremont.

A collision with a spectator held up several riders on the Hotond and there were tense moments on the wide downhill approach to the Kappelleberg, where riders were full-on sprinting in the fight for position. The first attacks came on that climb, as Jonas Abrahamsen (Uno-X) went clear with Van der Poel’s teammate Axel Laurence, and on the subsequent climb of the Wolvenberg Visma surprisingly went on the front foot with arguably their number-one leader, Matteo Jorgenson.

The bunch did reform and calm down on the cobbles of Kerkgate and Jagerig but at the 100km-to-go mark, the Molenberg loomed as the first major flashpoint of the race. It didn’t disappoint, as Pedersen decided to open the race. His Lidl-Trek teammates rushed him to the front for the 90-degree entry, which always sees a bottleneck, and the Dane smashed the pedals on the cobbles. Jorgenson, Benoot, and Van der Poel were all there as a group of 12 formed. However, it signalled the start of an open and chaotic phase of the race, with constant attacks.

Visma briefly fired Benoot away with Tim Van Dyke, while Van der Poel himself was forced to close a potentially dangerous gap that opened under the impetus of Julian Alaphilippe on the Marlboroughstraat. However, the world champion was then caught out when Dylan van Baarle (Visma) accelerated and forced a dangerous 10-man move clear. Also in there were Benoot, Pedersen, Ben Turner (Ineos Grenadiers), Oliver Naesen (Decathlon AG2R), Laurenz Rex (Intermarché-Wanty), Tim Merlier (Soudal Quick-Step), Nils Politt (UAE Team Emirates) Gianni Vermeersch (Alpecin-Deceuninck), Brent Van Moer (Lotto Dstny).

That group reached the break ahead of the Berendries, which saw another explosion before Alpecin rallied around their leader and mounted a proper chase. They reduced the gap from 25 seconds to 11 seconds between Berendries and Valkenberg, where Van der Poel calmly jumped across the gap.

As he made contact, Pedersen immediately attacked, keen to keep the pressure on. However, the former world champ found himself marked by Van der Poel’s teammate, Vermeersch. He decided to press on and soon enough Vermeersch got the orders from the team car to contribute, forcing Quick-Step and UAE to lead what was once again a large peloton.

Another crash with a spectator took at Stefan Kung (Groupama-FDJ) ahead of Berg Ten Houte with 75km to go, where Tim Wellens (UAE) went on the offensive. There were, however, no big splits there and Alpecin subsequently flipped their tactics to work in the bunch and have Vermeersch sit on Pedersen’s wheel up the Nieuwe Kruisberg and Hotond.

The Koppenberg decides the race

The next phase of the race was signalled by the second ascent of the Oude Kwaremont, by which point Alpecin had brought Pedersen back to within touching distance. Van der Poel profited from an acceleration by Oier Lazkano (Movistar) on the cobblestones before taking charge and gapping the rest as he rounded Pedersen. A group of six formed on the upper slopes - Teuns, Wellens, and Pithie were also there, but no one from Visma.

However, Jorgenson was part of a group that came back ahead of the Paterberg, along with the likes of Alberto Bettiol (EF Education-EasyPost) and Toms Skujins (Lidl-Trek). On the run towards the Koppenberg, Ivan Garcia Cortina (Movistar) attacked but disaster struck when his wheel locked up on the double-digit gradients of the climb itself, which is slippery even in the dry but was turned into an ice rink by the rain.

As Cortina was left stranded trying to reattach his chain, Van der Poel stamped on the pedals and ground his way clear. Jorgenson was the next rider up, followed by Pedersen, but they were nursing their bikes up, all seated and simply trying to maintain purchase between tyre and cobble. Behind those three, the dozen or so riders who made up the rest of the group were all forced to dismount and walk up the middle portion of the climb.

Beyond the top of the Koppenberg, Van der Poel carried a lead of seven seconds over Jorgenson, who tried but failed to close the gap before the Steenbeekdries. That would turn out to be the last chance to make a race of it. Instead, he slipped to 20 seconds, then back into the chase group, and Van der Poel sailed into the distance.

By the top of the Taaeinberg, which came hot on the heels of the Steenbeekdries, Van der Poel was nearly a minute out front. Jorgenson was by then in a group with Bettiol, Teuns, Wellens, Cortina, Pedersen, and Rex.

The only faint chance that group had of competing for victory was working faultlessly together in pursuit of Van der Poel, but they immediately started bickering and it quickly became clear this was a race for the minor podium positions.

At the top of the Oude Kruisberg and going back over the Hotond, Bettiol and Teuns attacked from the chase, as Wellens and Cortina combined just behind. Jorgenson and Pedersen, meanwhile, were caught by a mini group containing Skujins, Naesen, Benoot, and Michael Matthews (Jayco-AlUla).

The finale

Van der Poel swooped back to the foot of the Oude Kwaremont with 18km to go and 1:45 in hand, and was roared up by the Belgian fans, although there were reports of absue, and worse, being thrown. Behind, Bettiol and Teuns led the ‘chase’ as Wellens and Cortina were caught and several others came back into the equation after reaching out from the groups behind.

Van der Poel then calmly made his way up the double-digit gradients of the Paterberg, with time to burn. Teuns briefly dropped Bettiol on the Paterberg but the pair then combined on the run-in to keep at bay what had become a 10-man chase group with Jorgenson, Skujins, Naesen, Matthews, Wellens, Mozzato, Magnus Sheffield (Ineos Grenadiers), and Antonio Morgado (UAE Team Emirates). Benoot was also there but punctured out of it.

Bettiol and Teuns gamely hung on but ran out of gas in agonising fashion within reach of the finish line. Matthews launched a huge long-range sprint, and it nearly paid off. However, Politt first came back, and then Mozzato used the slipstream to rip through and grab second place with a bike throw.

In the end, it turned out second place was safe, as Matthews was deemed to have deviated too far to the right, leaving Politt, who was infuriated by the Australian's sprinting line, to collect the second Monument podium of his career.

The bottom steps of that podium, however, rarely has seemed further away from the top step.


Race Results

1

nl flag

VAN DER POEL Mathieu

Alpecin-Deceuninck

6H 05' 17"

2

it flag

MOZZATO Luca

ARKEA-B&B HOTELS

+ 1' 02"

3

de flag

POLITT Nils

UAE Team Emirates

"

4

dk flag

BJERG Mikkel

UAE Team Emirates

"

5

pt flag

MORGADO António

UAE Team Emirates

"

6

us flag

SHEFFIELD Magnus

INEOS Grenadiers

"

7

be flag

NAESEN Oliver

Decathlon AG2R La Mondiale Team

"

8

be flag

TEUNS Dylan

Israel-Premier Tech

"

9

it flag

BETTIOL Alberto

EF Education-EasyPost

"

10

lv flag

SKUJINS Toms

Lidl-Trek

"

Provided by FirstCycling

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Tour de France

2.UWT

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14 Apr

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