Van Aert wins the E3 Classic ahead of Van der Poel and Pogacar

Wout Van Aert won the E3 Classic after a fabulous show by dominating his two big rivals in the sprint for the Tour of Flanders, Mathieu van der Poel and Tadej Pogacar, Friday in Harelbeke. Nine days before the Tour of Flanders (April 2), the second Monument of the season two weeks after Milan-Sanremo, the “Big Three” made an impression. These three are above the competition, in particular the Frenchman Julian Alaphippe who has never been able to follow the hellish pace imposed in the seventeen climbs listed.

First success of the season for Van Aert

The Belgian Van Aert, already winner a year ago in Harelbeke, reassured himself by signing his first success of the season, “confirmation of (his) very good legs after a few frustrating weeks”. The Dutchman Van der Poel, six days after his resounding victory in the Primavera, confirmed “to be at the top of (his) form”, wanting to retain his “excellent sensations on the cobbled hills”.

As for the Slovenian Pogacar, already victorious nine times in 2023, he has demonstrated that he can compete with the “Flahutes” despite his ignorance of the Flandrian courses. “I made placement errors in the mountains that I won’t make again in ten days,” promised the double winner of the Tour de France.

Van der Poel started hostilities by attacking from the Taaienberg, 80 km from the line. Van Aert jumped directly into his wheel while Pogacar, badly placed, had to work to plug the hole. From that moment, there is only enough for these three. In the Paterberg, after a violent acceleration from Pogacar 40 km from the goal, there was already no one left to accompany them.

Waiting for the Tour of Flanders

Less explosive and less comfortable than his two opponents in the steepest sections, Van Aert got stuck – “I was at the limit in Old Quaremont” 47 km from the finish, he said – to deserve to compete for victory in the sprint. A final package that he decided to launch 150 meters from the line to win by a length. “I thought I was the freshest of the three. And as the wind was favourable, I launched myself”, explained the leader of the Jumbo-Visma formation. “The cyclo-cross Worlds served as a lesson for me (he had been beaten by Van der Poel at the end of January in Hoogerheide, editor’s note). I didn’t want a sprint that was too short.”

Van Aert will therefore approach the upcoming courses with confidence, starting with Ghent-Wevelgem on Sunday, which Van der Poel should not play and not appearing on the program of Pogacar who is returning home to Monaco “to breathe”. The UAE rider will not return to Belgium until the end of next week for the Ronde reconnaissance. We will therefore only see the three men in the same race again on the occasion of the great Flemish mass on April 2, which promises to be explosive and which the rivals of the fantastic three must already be afraid of. At the foot of the podium, the American Matteo Jorgenson won the title of “Best of the rest” (the best of the others) by taking fourth place on Friday.


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