Van der Poel scored a huge victory in his comeback from injury at Friday’s stage of Coppi e Bartali, just minutes from the moment van Aert brought home a Jumbo-Visma masterclass at the “mini Flanders” of the E3 Classic.
Call Friday’s timing fate, call it chance, call it something else – but there’s no denying the prospect of seeing the two “toppers” back on terms at the Tour of Flanders is one to set pulses racing.
“I really didn’t expect it,” van der Poel told reporters after his victory. “I felt I had the legs to do a nice sprint. I try to never give up. I felt good today, and I enjoyed myself actually.”
- Van der Poel back in winner’s circle at Coppi e Bartali
- Wout van Aert brings home Jumbo-Visma demolition at E3
The Dutch dynamo spent the day on the attack before blasting the bunch-sprint in the type of swaggering victory only MvdP can master.
With Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl imploding at E3 and the cobbles-crushers at Trek-Segafredo and Ag2r-Citroen chasing the wheels so far this spring, tongues are wagging …
Is van der Poel the only rider that can stop decade-long rival van Aert?
Alpecin-Fenix boss Christoph Roodhooft sure thinks so. He told Wielerflits this weekend that van der Poel is injury-free and way back in the frame after his podium finish at San Remo and a big week in Italy.
“Mathieu will be fine in the Tour of Flanders,” Roodhooft said. “Is he top-top-top OK? No. Is he one of the favorites? He is.”
— Settimana Coppi e Bartali (@coppiebartali) March 25, 2022
Victory against a small bunch of sprinters in a GC-heavy Italian race is no six-hour haul through the bumps and bergs of Belgium, but van der Poel’s plan to race Dwars door Vlaanderen on Wednesday should set the tone for what could be a firecracker race in Flanders.
The prospect of a van Aert-van der Poel match-up on the cobbles and climbs of De Ronde next weekend is almost too juicy to comprehend. Even van Aert will welcome the return after he said this winter that “racing needs van der Poel.”
Van Aert and van der Poel’s decade-long opposition is the gift that keeps giving. The two have been in each other’s wheels on the ‘cross course or the tarmac since their teens and shared more podiums that can be remembered.
The rivalry came to a monumental high when they took Flanders to a photo-finish in the 2020’s COVID edition, just one week after they bickered their way into a stalemate at Gent-Wevelgem.
Van der Poel and van Aert haven’t faced each other on the road since the mud-splattered mayhem of Paris-Roubaix last fall.
Van der Poel gutted out a third-place finish while van Aert faltered on the greasy pavé. Some 10 weeks later, van Aert tasted revenge when he beat the Ducthman in the Dendermonde World Cup.
— Team Jumbo-Visma cycling (@JumboVismaRoad) March 25, 2022
Van Aert is no doubt top favorite for Flanders after crushing both Omloop and E3 in recent weeks, and riders like Kasper Asgreen, Mads Pedersen and Jasper Stuyven haven’t yet hit their high.
But it seems so unlikely yet at the same time so logical that maybe only van der Poel can stop the dominant Belgian.
The 2020 Flanders photo-finish was one for the ages.
Who doesn’t want to see another capture like that in their classics collection?