Wout van Aert defies all cycling laws, his teammate Tiesj Benoot said in the run-up to the Ronde in Humo. That called for a bit of resistance. What with Tadej Pogacar than? Smiling: ‘That one too, yes.’ When it became clear that Van Aert would not win the Tour – a corona infection kept him at home – almost everyone was only talking about the same Pogačar, of whom Benoot also said that he was the only one who deserves to be with Eddy Merckx to be compared.
For Pogačar it was only his first Tour of Flanders among the pros. Who tuned in to Sporza heard from Karl Vannieuwkerke and Jose De Cauwer tell us that it had been 1967 since a debutant had won the Flemish high mass. And to add even more luster to the Slovenian’s upcoming victory, they added that only two Tour de France winners could ever put him on their record: Louison Bobet and, yes, Eddy Merckx.
Just to say: both Sporza commentators were all set for a historic cycling high day. Pogačar attended to their beck and call. When he raced past the entire field of participants on the Oude Kwaremont out of nowhere, all variations on ‘unlikely’ and ‘unbelievable’ passed in review, only interrupted by Vannieuwkerke who casually wondered: ‘Where is Mathieu van der Poel†
New cycling laws were being written, that much was clear. ‘This is more than a business card. Printed on the front and back’, De Cauwer nevertheless found it a bit surprising. As if Pogačar had yet to introduce himself to anyone. ‘In four-colour printing’, Vannieuwkerke would add a few climbs later. Meanwhile, the two-time Tour winner kept accelerating. “He’s in an incredible hurry, this Slovenian,” he said freely Herman van Veen when he conquered the Taaienberg.
But if Pogačar flew, what about the man who had nestled silently in his wheel? Mathieu van der Poel! Speculation began in the Sporza commentary booth. That’s where the Paterberg loomed. Would they climb it together, or try to hurt each other? De Cauwer bet his money that Pogačar would try to shake off Van der Poel. He was right. Pogačar took the lead, Van der Poel left a gap. Shoulders just barely swayed, heads spinning in all directions. And just sniff at those handlebars. ‘I was about to unload’, Van der Poel would confess afterwards. But he didn’t resolve.
All executioners were on now, there would be a sprint for the victory. Just like the past two editions, each time with Van der Poel. Two years ago he beat Van Aert, last year he was Kasper Asgreen the fastest. That painful memory clearly did not hit Van der Poel, because he easily gave Pogačar the check. That the latter is still ringing with the one who has returned from the background Dylan van Baerle and Valentin Madouas, and thus fell off the podium, was a very strict verdict for the man who, according to Van der Poel, had been the strongest in the race. “I would have awarded him the podium and even the victory if he had beaten me,” he said with a heartwarming sportsmanship.
With his victory, Van der Poel stunned friend and foe. Only two weeks ago he drove his first race in almost six months with Milan-Sanremo. Third place, fingers in the nose. And that after a winter that was completely overshadowed by back problems, the cause of which was not found. Something with an intervertebral disc, it sounded after a long guess. The cure? Rest and above all do not proliferate with the forces.
Van der Poel didn’t like that advice between Antwerp and Oudenaarde. After the 106th Tour of Flanders, it can be concluded, albeit with the usual sense of exaggeration, that Mathieu van der Poel and no one else defies all cycling laws. Or something like that.