E3 Saxo Classic: Wout van Aert fends off Mathieu van der Poel, Tadej Pogačar to win
American racer Matteo Jorgenson claims fourth place in debut appearance.
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Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) doubled up at the E3 Saxo Classic, outsprinting Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Deceuninck) and Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) to take his second straight win at the one-day race.
Van Aert, Pogačar, and Van der Poel came to the line together after spending most of the race in each other’s company. Pogačar tried twice to shed his rivals, but he could not do so on the flat run into Harelbeke and was left to try and do it in the sprint.
However, Van Aert and Van der Poel had too much power for the Slovenian and it was down to those two to contest the victory. The pair were neck and neck for some time before Van der Poel sat up just before the line and Van Aert rode through to take his second straight win at the so-called “mini-Flanders.”
Matteo Jorgenson (Movistar) attacked from the chase group behind to solo to fourth place in what is his first appearance at E3.
“Because of the strength of the lead group, it was hard to try something. I think Tadej did two smaller attacks, but at least for me I wanted to focus on the sprint and to try to stick to one plan. If it’s a group of just three then it is hard to surprise everybody,” Van Aert said.
“It’s a while since I’ve won a race on the road bike. I had a difficult preparation going into the classics but I’m on the right way.”
The race comes alive
Van der Poel lit the touch paper on the Taaienberg with about 80 kilometers to go. The Milan-San Remo rider put the hammer down on punchy ascent, taking with him a small group of riders that included Van Aert.
The move was subsequently neutralized but it signaled the beginning of a series of attacks off the front as riders looked to get any advantage they could get. Jorgenson was one of the riders that had a go and were reeled back in.
Matej Mohorič (Bahrain-Merida), Nathan Van Hooydonck (Jumbo-Visma), and Søren Kragh (Alpecin-Deceuninck) then went clear together, holding a slim margin of about 15 seconds on the chasers behind.
The trio didn’t get much time ahead before another stinging acceleration from Van der Poel with 57km to go canceled out their advantage. Van Aert was once again the only rider that could immediately follow him while Pogačar was forced to scramble across the gap.
Pogačar was the next to push the pace on the front, shedding the riders that had been in that earlier move, despite a spirited effort from Mohorič. The group reformed on the flat but Pogačar was ready to go again as they hit the Kwaremont.
This time, Van Aert appeared to be in trouble as he lost the wheel to Van der Poel and Pogačar ahead. He would claw his way back on, but another attack from Pogačar put him off the back again and he had to wait until after the climb to reconnect with his companions.
Behind, a group containing Jorgenson, Filippo Ganna (Ineos Grenadiers), and Stefan Küng (Groupama-FDJ) raced hard to pick up the dropped trio of Mohorič, Van Hooydonck, and Kragh. However, the pace slackened when the catch was made and with 25 kilometers to go the gap was over a minute.
Noticeable from their absence were the riders from the Soudal Quick-Step team. While they had been up there when Van der Poel made his first moves on the Taaienberg, they quickly disappeared. Florian Sénéchal had his chances ended when he hit the deck at 57km to go, along with Dylan van Baarle (Jumbo-Visma).
Having been dropped earlier, Van Aert put in an acceleration over the top of the final climb of the Tiegemberg, but it wasn’t enough to get any major gap and the trio would charge on toward the finish together.
A more concerted chase from behind saw the gap drop below a minute inside the final 10 kilometers, but the podium positions had already been decided. It would just be a case of the order in which they went.
With two fast finishers in the group, Pogačar was always going to need an attack to break his companions. His first move with three kilometers to go was quickly shut down.
The Slovenian tried again with 1.5km to go, but Van der Poel was wise to his tactics and Pogačar hardly got a meter of an advantage.
Ultimately, it would come down to a sprint to the line with Pogačar getting swamped by his more experienced classics contenders. Van Aert and Van der Poel went toe-to-toe with the Belgian edging it out on the line.
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