Pogačar the best of the three
The Big Three, that was the talk all week in the lead up to the Tour of Flanders. In the end, it was Pogačar who was the master in the Tour of Flanders. Van der Poel stranded in second place, while Pedersen won the sprint for third place.
It went hard in the first race hours of the Tour of Flanders 2023 and thus there was work to do to form an early breakaway. It was the wind that caused the first cracks in the peloton. Van der Poel (Alpecin - Deceuninck), Girmay (Intermarché-Circus-Wanty), Matthews (Team Jayco Alula) and Vanmarcke (Israel-Premier Tech) were among the riders who were caught by surprise. It was Van der Poel’s team that had to correct the lopsided situation. Up front, the pace did not drop. 50 km were covered in the first hour.
With 213 km to go, the Van der Poel group rejoined at the front and everything had to be redone. The next who had to chase was one of those other favourites, Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates). The Slovenian was able to join up again after a fall. 85 km after the start, there was still no early break under way.
After a little more than 100 km, the break finally occurred. The peloton let Van Keirsbulck (Bingoal WB), Hoole (Trek-Segafredo), De Buyst (Lotto Dstny), Colombo (Q36.5 Pro Cycling Team) and Reinders (Team Jayco Alula) got away. Three more riders were eventually able to make the jump to the front: Merlier (Soudal – Quick-Step), Rutsch (EF Education – Easypost) and Houle (Israel – Premier Tech). The leading group cycled together to gain a maximum lead of 6’28”.
With 140 km to go, some big names again suffered a crash. Among others, Sagan (TotalEnergies), Matthews (Team Jaeco-Alula), Stuyven (Trek-Segafredo) and Wellens (UAE Team Emirates) were involved in that crash. Van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) also fell, but was able to continue his race without any problems.
On the Wolvenberg it was Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo) who accelerated. Geniets (Groupama – FDJ), Vermeersch (Alpecin – Deceuninck) and Trentin (UAE Team Emirates) joined in. They were not sitting still in the peloton on the Molenberg either. With around 100 km to go, another chasing group formed with Asgreen (Soudal – Quick-Step), Van Hooydonck (Jumbo-Visma), Trentin (UAE Team Emirates), Küng (Groupama – FDJ), Narvaez (INEOS Grenadiers), Wright (Bahrain Victorious) and Powless (EF Education – Easypost). Pedersen (Trek - Segafredo) and Vermeersch (Lotto Dstny) joined on the Marlboroughstraat. The next riders to cross were Jorgensen (Team Movistar) and Cosnefroy (AG2R Citroën Team). They in turn accelerated on the Berendries.
In the run up to the Kanarieberg, the peloton again went particularly hard, resulting in another crash. The biggest casualties this time were Girmay and De Gendt (Intermarché – Circus – Wanty) and Mohoric (Bahrain Victorious). On the Kanarieberg, De Buyst was dropped, while Politt (Bora-hansgrohe) and Zingle (Cofidis) went in search of the chasers.
They would not close the gap because at the second passage on the Oude Kwaremont Pogačar wreaked havoc. Van Aert and Van der Poel had to let go, along with Laporte (Jumbo-Visma) and Pidcock (INEOS Grenadiers). The Slovenian went off alone in search of the leaders that the chasing group with Asgreen and Trentin had joined in the meantime.
After the climb of the Paterberg, it was Laporte who was able to hitch his wagon to Pogačar. Just before the Koppenberg, Van Aert and Van der Poel were also able to join up and that was the signal for Pogačar to shake the tree again on the Koppenberg. This time, only Van Aert and Van der Poel could stick to his wheel. In the meantime, the gap to the leading group had shrunk to 1 minute.
Another spectacle on the Taaienberg. At the front, Narvaez and Cosnefroy had to let go, while Van der Poel’s gear system faltered in the chase and he had to close a gap. Up front, Pedersen saw his moment on the Hotond. There was also a new acceleration by ‘The Big 3’ on the Kruisberg. This time it was Van der Poel who shook the tree. Pogačar went with him, Van Aert had to drop back. While Van der Poel and Pogačar went in search of the group behind Pedersen, Van Hooydonck fell back to assist his leader Van Aert.
On the third and final climb of the Oude Kwaremont it was again Pogačar who accelerated. The gap to Pedersen was closed in no time. Van der Poel had to let the Slovenian go. On top of the Oude Kwaremont, Pogačar accelerated once more. The Slovenian charged solo to the front of the race.
Also on the Paterberg, Pogačar held his own. With a 15-second lead, he started the last 13 km which became a man-to-man battle between the former Tour winner and two-time Tour of Flanders winner Van der Poel. Second by second, the Slovenian rode away from the Dutchman, en route to his first victory in the Tour of Flanders. Pedersen won the sprint for third place, just ahead of Wout van Aert.