Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) illustrated he is a “level above everyone” in his Tour of Flanders triumph, according to Discovery Cycling expert Dan Lloyd.
In the absence of rival Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma), the second Monument of 2022 came down to a head-to-head showdown between the Dutchman and Tadej Pogacar (UAE Team Emirates) – or so we first thought.
Van der Poel, who had found himself in two-up finales in the past two seasons in Flanders – boasting one win and one loss – opted for different tactics this time and elected to slow himself and Pogacar to a near-standstill.
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It was only when Dylan van Baarle (Ineos Grenadiers) and Valentin Madouas (Groupama-FDJ) arrived on the scene that Van der Poel exploded to the line, his gamble paying dividends as he took victory and Pogacar somehow finished off the podium.
It capped a remarkable comeback for Van der Poel, who only made his first competitive appearance of the season at Milan-San Remo a fortnight ago after a longstanding back complaint. He came third at the Italian Monument before triumphing at Dwars door Vlaanderen and Flanders.
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“We were all incredibly surprised he was even on the start line for San Remo,” said Lloyd on The Breakaway.
“It’s not a surprise because he is that talented but every time he does it you’re still thinking ‘my goodness’. That’s just a level above everyone.”
Van der Poel won the race ahead of Van Baarle and Madouas after Pogacar inexplicably decided not to drive on the pace in the closing stages.
“He’s started three big races this year,” added Adam Blythe. “He’s come third in a Monument, won a Classic, and won another Monument. It’s just unbelievable.
“He’s delivered what we wanted him to do, it’s unreal.”
Van der Poel was full of praise for the man who somehow contrived to finish fourth in what appeared to be a two-horse race – and even had some words of wisdom for the double Tour de France champion.
"Pogacar was maybe the strongest in the race and he rode offensively. I would have applauded him if he’d won – and I applaud him even when he didn’t. Maybe he just needs to sprint a couple more times here to get it right," he said.
'Pogacar's anger at the finish demonstrated he was here to win' - Wiggins
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