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Mathieu van der Poel: ‘Pogačar deserved to be on the podium’

De Ronde champ compliments rivals van Aert and Pogačar: ‘Attacking is the most honest way to be in a final with the best riders.’

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OUDENAARDE, Belgium (VN) — Tadej Pogačar was diplomatic after just missing the podium in his otherwise spectacular Tour of Flanders debut with fourth place.

De Ronde winner Mathieu van der Poel did not doubt that his Slovenian rival deserved more.

“He was really impressive today,” van der Poel said. “It’s a bit of a shame that he is not on the podium, because a ride like this I think he deserves a podium for it.”

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Pogačar was racing to win in his highly anticipated debut at De Ronde, and shook off an early crash.

The two-time Tour de France champion unleashed a series of searing attacks on Oude Kwaremont and later on the Koppenberg that shattered the peloton in his wake.

Only van der Poel at his best could hold the wheel.

“Especially on the last time up Kwaremont and Paterberg, I was happy to keep his wheel,” van der Poel said. “I was really on the limit there.”

Putting van der Poel on the limit reveals just how powerful Pogačar’s unrelenting attacks were in the final hour of racing.

The UAE Emirates star lit up what was the second and penultimate passage up Oude Kwaremont, jumping out of the main bunch just as an earlier 15-rider group was getting reeled in.

Pogačar bolted through traffic to move to the front. Van der Poel was sure to be right there on his wheel going over the top.

“I didn’t really see it because it was a strange situation. The ‘anticipating group’ was caught there, it was a bit of chaos there,” van der Poel said. “I managed to close it OK. I was confident that I had the legs to go with him.”

Van der Poel only wants to race against the best

Van der Poel and Pogačar spiced things up early. (Photo by Tim de Waele/Getty Images)

Van der Poel handed out the nicest compliments to his most dangerous rivals.

He sent a message of condolences to Wout van Aert, who missed the race due to a late diagnosis of COVID-19.

Van der Poel said every win is special, saying the level in the peloton is so high, but said he prefers to square off against the very best in the bunch.

“A rider like Wout would have been in the mix and would have been in our group,” he said of the Jumbo-Visma star. “I prefer to race with him or Pogačar because they prefer to race from far away. It’s the most honest way to be in a final with the best riders.

“It would have been even more special with him. I hope he can get fit again for Roubaix.”

Van der Poel said he wasn’t surprised to see Pogačar throwing down attacks, especially after what he saw of him at Dwars door Vlaanderen on Wednesday.

“He is just an incredible talent,” van der Poel said of Pogačar. “He was impressive at Dwars and he only missed being in the front group because he was caught behind a crash.”

Van der Poel, who races next at Amstel Gold Race and Paris-Roubaix, said he wouldn’t be surprised to see Pogačar take on the feared cobbles of the “Hell of the North” someday.

“I think he’s capable but this one is better for him because it’s more uphill,” he said of Flanders. “But for sure he could win at Roubaix.”