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Mathieu van der Poel tops Wout van Aert in dramatic sprint to win Tour of Flanders

The Tour of Flanders came down to a dramatic sprint between Wout van Aert and Mathieu van der Poel. In the final push to the line, van der Poel was fastest.

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Dutch star Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) won a two-man duel with rival Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) to win the Tour of Flanders by centimeters.

Van Aert and van der Poel came into the final kilometers together after a dramatic battle across the cobblestones. In the final sprint for the line, van der Poel opened the sprint with 100 meters to go, and his final surge held off van Aert by a fraction of a wheel length.

After 244 kilometers, the margin of victory was just a few centimeters.

“I can’t believe I’ve won a monument,” van der Poel said at the finish. “I’m speechless. I wasn’t sure I had won.”

The photo finish came after a dramatic final 50km that saw van Aert and van der Poel attack out of the front group alongside Frenchman Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck–Quick-Step).

Alaphilippe’s attacks drew out van der Poel and van Aert. Photo: Luc Claessen/Getty Images

Alaphilippe’s aggression forced the final strategic moves in the 244km race. Alaphilippe attacked first on the Koppenberg with 50km to go, and his surge drew out the pre-race favorites into an elite front group. Alaphilippe then surged on the cobbled section of the Steenbeekdries, and that move drew out van Aert and van der Poel. The trio surged away from the peloton, and the race appeared destined to become a three-man slugfest over the final 35km.

And then, Alaphilippe tangled with a race motorcycle, and the impact sent the Frenchman crashing to the tarmac. The crash knocked him out of the race entirely, as van Aert and van der Poel pedaled off to the thrilling finish.

Alaphilippe’s crash set up the final. Photo: Luc Claessen/Getty Images

Van Aert and van der Poel matched each other on the Oude Kwaremont and then the Paterberg, while behind a chase group of 20 tried in vain to pull the duo back. With the group hovering around 50 seconds, the duo pedaled into the final 3km, as a light rain began to fall.

It was a classic finish to the season’s final monument.

How the race played out

The 104th edition of the Tour of Flanders was a truly singular event, due to the global COVID-19 pandemic and the mid-October race date. The cancelation of Paris-Roubaix made Flanders the final monument of 2020, which placed extra importance on the race.

The race also played out in a bizarre fashion, with fans prohibited from standing along the 244-kilometer route. Helicopter images of the race showed mostly empty roads, and the famed cobbled climbs were devoid of the usual fanfare and flying flags.

Despite the strange circumstances, the race played out in typical fashion.

The day’s early break contained Gregor Mühlberger (Bora-Hansgrohe), Samuele Battistella (NTT Pro Cycling), Danny van Poppel (Circus-Wanty Gobert), Gijs Van Hoecke (CCC Team), Dimitri Peyskens (Bingoal-Wallonie Bruxelles), and Fabio Van Den Bossche (Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise).

The early break at the Tour of Flanders. Photo: Luc Claessen/Getty Images

Behind, the favorites stayed safely in the bunch, however there were crashes. Van Aert took a tumble with 114km to go, but was able to get back onto his bicycle.

The breakaway group spent much of the day together off the front, but the gap began to fall inside 70km to go, and with 50km to go the remnants of the group were absorbed.

As the race began to heat up, world champion Julian Alaphilippe (Elegant-Quick-Step) poured on the pressure. First, he attacked on the Paterberg and went clear with Total Direct Energie rider Anthony Turgis.

After that move was reeled in, Alaphilippe attacked again on the rolling Steenbeekdries sector of cobbles with about 42km to go. That move drew out van der Poel, and for a moment, it appeared that the two strongmen would power away to the finish.

But the aggression did not go unnoticed. Wout van Aert jumped out and bridged solo to the leading two, making contact on the Taaienberg.

With a chase group of 20 pushing on behind, the trio’s lead continued to expand and it appeared the 2020 Tour of Flanders podium contained these three heads of state.

The chase group contained Alberto Bettiol and Sep Vanmarcke (EF Education First), Yves Lampaert and Florian Sénéchal (Elegant-Quick-Step), John Degenkolb (Lotto-Soudal), Oliver Naesen (AG2R), Jasper Stuyven (Trek-Segafredo), Valentin Madouas (Groupama–FDJ), Dylan Teuns (Bahrain-McLaren), Dylan van Baarle (Ineos Grenadiers), Tiesj Benoot (Sunweb), Alexander Kristoff (UAE), Dimitri Claeys (Cofidis), Arjen Livyns (Bingoal-Wallonie Bruxelles), Xavier Meurisse and Andrea Pasqualon (Circus-Wanty), and Turgis.

The race became a battle between rivals. Photo: Luc Claessen/Getty Images

That’s when Alaphilippe hit a motorbike the group was passing and went down hard, ending his race.

As the Frenchman writhed on the tarmac in pain, van Aert and van der Poel sped away to the final climbs.

Coming onto the cobbled Kwaremont for the second and final time, van der Poel led van Aert up until the midpoint of the climb where it levels out. Van Aert came through and from there on, the pair rotated smoothly.

Behind, Oliver Naesen went clear of the chasing group on the Kwaremont, now down to 12 riders.

Flying down the narrow serpentine road to the foot of the cobbled Paterberg, van der Poel again led, taking the hard right hand corner onto the short but fiendishly steep Paterberg. Only 360 meters long, the Paterberg kicks to over 20 percent towards the top.

Neither man attacked the other on the Paterberg, so with 13km to go it appeared the race would come down to a two-man sprint.

Behind, Naesen fought his bike up the Paterberg, but held his gap over the chasers, led by Vanmarcke, who had crashed earlier in the day and chased back solo. But all of those surges did little to bring back the front two.

In the final kilometer, van der Poel led, and immediately let off the pressure. What had been a high-speed gallop turned into a high-pressure but low-speed gamble, with neither man willing to lead out the other too early.

Who would go first?

At 180m van Aert launched his sprint, and van der Poel immediately reacted. The two drag raced to the line, with van der Poel just nipping the Belgian at the line.

The victory came 34 years after van der Poel’s father, Adri, won the race. When the elder van der Poel won the 1986 edition, he wore the race number 51.

On Sunday, Mathieu van der Poel also wore race number 51.

“It’s incredible. Maybe the number 51 is something special,” van der Poel said. “I didn’t really believe it, but maybe I am starting to believe it.”

Ronde van Vlaanderen - Tour des Flandres ME Results

1VAN DER POEL MathieuAlpecin-Fenix5:43:17
2VAN AERT WoutTeam Jumbo-Visma0:00
3KRISTOFF AlexanderUAE Team Emirates0:08
4TURGIS AnthonyTeam Total Direct Energie0:08
5LAMPAERT YvesDeceuninck - Quick Step0:08
6CLAEYS DimitriCofidis0:08
7NAESEN OliverAG2R La Mondiale0:08
8VAN BAARLE DylanINEOS Grenadiers0:08
9DEGENKOLB JohnLotto Soudal0:08
10BENOOT TiesjTeam Sunweb0:08
11TEUNS DylanBahrain - McLaren0:08
12SÉNÉCHAL FlorianDeceuninck - Quick Step0:08
13ASGREEN KasperDeceuninck - Quick Step0:08
14MADOUAS ValentinGroupama - FDJ0:08
15MEURISSE XandroCircus - Wanty Gobert0:08
16BETTIOL AlbertoEF Pro Cycling0:08
17VANMARCKE SepEF Pro Cycling0:16
18DE BUYST JasperLotto Soudal2:41
19POLITT NilsIsrael Start-Up Nation2:41
20BYSTRØM Sven ErikUAE Team Emirates2:41
21VALGREN MichaelNTT Pro Cycling2:41
22CAPIOT AmaurySport Vlaanderen - Baloise2:41
23MEZGEC LukaMitchelton-Scott2:41
24PASQUALON AndreaCircus - Wanty Gobert2:41
25BARDET RomainAG2R La Mondiale2:41
26STUYVEN JasperTrek - Segafredo2:41
27KEUKELEIRE JensEF Pro Cycling2:41
28GOGL MichaelNTT Pro Cycling2:49
29LIVYNS ArjenBingoal - Wallonie Bruxelles3:05
30WALSCHEID MaxNTT Pro Cycling4:03
31ALLEGAERT PietCofidis4:03
32VAN ASBROECK TomIsrael Start-Up Nation4:03
33NIEUWENHUIS JorisTeam Sunweb4:03
34VERGAERDE OttoAlpecin-Fenix4:03
35NAESEN LawrenceAG2R La Mondiale4:03
36KLUGE RogerLotto Soudal4:03
37DRUCKER JempyBORA - hansgrohe4:03
38DECLERCQ TimDeceuninck - Quick Step4:03
39ARNDT NikiasTeam Sunweb4:03
40MOLARD RudyGroupama - FDJ4:03
41FRISON FrederikLotto Soudal4:03
42VAN HOECKE GijsCCC Team4:03
43BURGHARDT MarcusBORA - hansgrohe4:03
44HOULE HugoAstana Pro Team4:03
45VAN GESTEL DriesTeam Total Direct Energie4:03
46VANDENBERGH StijnAG2R La Mondiale4:03
47COLBRELLI SonnyBahrain - McLaren4:03
48DURBRIDGE LukeMitchelton-Scott4:05
49VAN HOOYDONCK NathanCCC Team4:05
50ROWE LukeINEOS Grenadiers4:05
51MARCATO MarcoUAE Team Emirates4:05
52BOASSON HAGEN EdvaldNTT Pro Cycling4:08
53RICKAERT JonasAlpecin-Fenix4:08
54KWIATKOWSKI MichałINEOS Grenadiers4:08
55HALLER MarcoBahrain - McLaren4:16
56LEMOINE CyrilCofidis4:59
57DEVENYNS DriesDeceuninck - Quick Step4:59
58EEKHOFF NilsTeam Sunweb4:59
59PEDERSEN MadsTrek - Segafredo4:59
60LANGEVELD SebastianEF Pro Cycling4:59
61OSS DanielBORA - hansgrohe4:59
62TRENTIN MatteoCCC Team4:59
63TOUZÉ DamienCofidis4:59
64GENIETS KevinGroupama - FDJ4:59
65OLIVEIRA RuiUAE Team Emirates7:26
66BARTHE CyrilB&B Hotels - Vital Concept p/b KTM7:26
67VAN DEN BOSSCHE FabioSport Vlaanderen - Baloise7:26
68PRADES EduardMovistar Team7:26
69BAUER JackMitchelton-Scott8:26
70VAKOČ PetrAlpecin-Fenix8:26
71LECROQ JérémyB&B Hotels - Vital Concept p/b KTM9:36
72JANSE VAN RENSBURG ReinardtNTT Pro Cycling9:36
73ŠTYBAR ZdeněkDeceuninck - Quick Step9:36
74THEUNS EdwardTrek - Segafredo10:30
75BEULLENS CedricSport Vlaanderen - Baloise10:30
76KONYCHEV AlexanderMitchelton-Scott10:30
77DE VREESE LaurensAstana Pro Team10:30
78MENTEN MilanSport Vlaanderen - Baloise10:30
79VAN KEIRSBULCK GuillaumeCCC Team10:30
80BOHLI TomUAE Team Emirates10:30
81SKUJIŅŠ TomsTrek - Segafredo10:30
82LAPORTE ChristopheCofidis10:30
83MAITRE FlorianTeam Total Direct Energie10:30
84SCHÄR MichaelCCC Team10:30
85SPRENGERS ThomasSport Vlaanderen - Baloise10:30
86TILLER RasmusNTT Pro Cycling10:30
87MARTINELLI DavideAstana Pro Team10:30
88WIRTGEN LucBingoal - Wallonie Bruxelles10:30
89GIDICH YevgeniyAstana Pro Team10:30
90WIRTGEN TomBingoal - Wallonie Bruxelles10:30
91RUTSCH JonasEF Pro Cycling10:30
92TAMINIAUX LionelBingoal - Wallonie Bruxelles10:30
93JACOBS JohanMovistar Team10:30
94SOUPE GeoffreyTeam Total Direct Energie10:30
95LIENHARD FabianGroupama - FDJ10:30
96KIRSCH AlexTrek - Segafredo10:30
97PÖSTLBERGER LukasBORA - hansgrohe10:30
98SCHACHMANN MaximilianBORA - hansgrohe10:30
99LAWLESS ChrisINEOS Grenadiers10:30
100MÜHLBERGER GregorBORA - hansgrohe10:30
101DOULL OwainINEOS Grenadiers10:30
102KÜNG StefanGroupama - FDJ10:30
103KNEES ChristianINEOS Grenadiers10:30
104EENKHOORN PascalTeam Jumbo-Visma10:30
105EDMONDSON AlexMitchelton-Scott10:30
106ROOSEN TimoTeam Jumbo-Visma10:30
107VAN POPPEL BoyCircus - Wanty Gobert10:30
108VAN POPPEL DannyCircus - Wanty Gobert10:30
109KOCH JonasCCC Team10:30
110SUTER JoelBingoal - Wallonie Bruxelles10:30
111TERPSTRA NikiTeam Total Direct Energie10:30

Results provided by ProCyclingStats.