EFirst it was a show of force, then a dogged and spectacular duel. Namely those two climbers in the cycling guild who, according to the general forecast, could become long-term dominators of the peloton. To drivers who will each win many great races. Mathieu van der Poel and Wout van Aert can be trusted, who have already given up the status of child prodigies in favor of the designation “top favorites” in the toughest one-day races. At the prestigious Tour of Flanders on Sunday, the Dutchman van der Poel almost got the better end for himself, the Belgian van Aert lost out.
After 243 kilometers, the two experts sprinted shoulder to shoulder towards the finish line. The duel between the young giants was so close that initially nobody cheered. “I didn’t know if I had won. Usually I always know that, but I was so exhausted, ”said van der Poel. “I knew I had to do the sprint of my life. They told me twice that I had won, but I asked for confirmation ten times. I am speechless. ”So it was only after a delay that van der Poel received the redemptive message of the greatest success of his career. Most of the time he has spent in the terrain at bike cross events, where the 25-year-old is three-time and reigning world champion. Van Aert also laid the foundation for his fabulous rise in road racing this year on the cross bike, the 26-year-old is also a three-time world champion in this discipline.
Duel on the street
The duel between the two now continues on the road and electrifies the cycling nations Belgium and the Netherlands. So far with advantages for van Aert, who, with the strong Jumbo-Visma team behind him, can look back on an impressive 2020 annual result: victories at Milan-Sanremo and Strade Bianchi, winning two Tour de France stages, silver in the road race and in the time trial. Van der Poel from the second division Alpecin-Fenix, on the other hand, has not yet contested any of the major country tours, won the Amstel Gold Race last year and recently the overall ranking of the Binck-Bank Tour. He made the Tour of Flanders his highlight of the season after the corona-related cancellation of Paris – Roubaix – and delivered it with impressive performance. Especially since it was the first real duel with van Aert in such a constellation, in which both reached for a big win in top form.
The “Ronde van Vlanderen” is one of the festive days of the cycling calendar. An extremely grueling race with a special history and mythology, which only wins if you combine legs, will, heart and instinct to the point. The hunt is shaped by the Hellingen, those short but poisonous, mostly cobblestone climbs. But the 104th edition of the “Ronde” had an unusual face: where otherwise there is a Flemish festival atmosphere at the roadside, fervent cheers resound, which the drivers at the defining points no longer even let the commands from their sports directors via radio be heard. The Belgian fans followed the organizers’ appeals to stay away from the track.
Attacks and counter attacks
The detailed route had been kept secret to keep spectators away. But of course the course led over famous climbs like Paterberg and Oude Kwaremont. Only that van der Poel and van Aert with the demonstration of their strength prevented the usual exciting elimination race, consisting of a close sequence of attacks and counter-attacks in the final.
Because more than 40 kilometers before the finish, the two separated from the remaining main field, accompanied by Julian Alaphilippe (Team Deceuninck-QuickStep). But the French world champion collided with a support motorcycle 35 kilometers before the end and crashed violently. He suffered a double broken hand. But even as the remaining duo, the two all-rounders on the bike, whose already obvious mutual animosities give the duel even more spice on sight, quickly gained over a minute’s lead.
The hunters only came into view again when the two gambled and hesitated on the home straight. Third place went to the Norwegian Alexander Kristoff (Team UAE) as the best of the chasing group. The German classic specialist John Degenkolb from the Lotto-Soudal Equipe underlined his top form at the end of the season with ninth place, which was his best result in a “Monument” in more than three years. On a day on which the duel between Mathieu van der Poel and Wout van Aert, which might have shaped cycling for years, was given its first major performance.