OUDENAARDE, Belgium – Dutch rider Mathieu van der Poel came out of a four-man sprint to win the Tour of Flanders cobbled classic for the second time.
Two-time Tour de France champion Tadej Pogacar blew his chances in the race’s finale.
Van der Poel and Pogacar escaped from the group of remaining contenders and rode together for the last 15 kilometers after the Slovenian rider launched a sharp attack in the Oude Kwaremont climb.
Van der Poel was the only one able to follow and the 273-kilometer one-day classic looked set for a two-man sprint.
But the leading duo played a cat and mouse game in the final kilometer as Pogacar waited for an opening that never came, and they were ultimately caught by chasers with some 250 meters left.
Van der Poel then launched his effort and used his greater power to prevail.
Pogacar was boxed behind Frenchman Valentin Madouas and Dutchman Dylan van Baarle in the sprint. He gestured in frustration as he crossed the line in fourth place.
Van Baarle was runner-up ahead of Madouas.
Wout van Aert of Belgium did not compete after testing positive for COVID-19. But Belgian champion Lotte Kopecky gave the local fans something to cheer about by winning the women’s race ahead of former world champion Annemiek van Vleuten of the Netherlands.
Another Dutch rider, Chantal van den Broek-Blaak – a teammate of Kopecky – completed the podium.
A versatile rider, Van der Poel has won titles in many disciplines and wore the Tour de France yellow jersey for six days last year. He is the grandson of the late French rider Raymond Poulidor. Van der Poel won his first Tour of Flanders in 2020.
“It’s incredible, especially, I know where I came from,” said Van der Poel, who recovered from a back injury that forced him to cut short his cyclo-cross season. “It’s a pity for Tadej that he is not on the podium today because he deserved it, he did an amazing ride.”
The Tour of Flanders is one of the “monuments” of cycling – the five most prestigious one-day events in the sport – along with Milan-San Remo, Paris-Roubaix, Liege-Bastogne-Liege and the Giro di Lombardia.
First held in 1913, the race is also known as De Ronde. It features multiple short but punishing climbs and is one of the two classics with cobblestone sections along with Paris-Roubaix.