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Bicycle Racing News and Opinion,
Monday, April 3, 2023

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2022 Tour de France | 2022 Giro d'Italia

To write it, it took three months; to conceive it three minutes; to collect the data in it all my life. - F. Scott Fitzgerald

Tour de France: 2020

Bill & Carol McGann's book The Story of the Tour de France, 2020: The Tour During Covid-19, Better Late Than Never is available in both Kindle eBook and Audiobook versions. To get your copy, just click on the Amazon link on the right.

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Ronde van Vlaanderen/Tour of Flanders reports

We posted the organizer's report with the results.

Here's the report from winner Tadej Pogacar's UAE Team Emirates:

An attack on the last lap of the Oude Kwaremont, at 20 km to the end of the Ronde van Vlaanderen 2023, strengthened the tale of Tadej Pogačar as one of the top stars of cycling.

UAE Team Emirates’ rider conquered the victory that he missed out on last year on the final straight of the race, adding another monument Classic to those already won: Liege-Bastogne-Liege and two editions of Il Lombardia.

Tadej Pogacar finsihes alone. Sirotti photo

Pogačar preceded Mathieu Van der Poel (Alpecin-Deceuninck) with an advantage of 16”.

The race was demanding also because of some crashes that occurred in the early and central part of the course: unfortunately, Tim Wellens was one of the victims, sustaining a broken left collarbone.

UAE Team Emirates could rely on Matteo Trentin in the 11 rider group that took the head of the race at 80 km to go and the presence of the Italian cyclist was very useful for his Slovenian teammate when he and Van der Poel dropped Van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) on the Kruisberg: after having exploited the support from Trentin for a couple of kilometers, Pogačar then launched his winning outstanding attack on the Oude Kwaremont.

Today’s victory is the 56th for the Slovenian rider in his career, 10th in 2023, while for UAE Team Emirates the seasonal successes are now 17.

Pogačar: “I have no words to describe today’s race, in which the work from my team was amazing: it’s a day I will never forget, especially after last year’s disappointment.

"I had a good day, Matteo was in the front in a perfect position and at the end I could say it was one of the best races ever for me. I knew that, if I wanted to go solo, the Oude Kwaremont was the right place where attack, so I gave my best and I succeeded in dropping the opponents, then I almost cracked on Paterberg: I was aware it would have been tough, but it was the only way for aiming for the victory.

"The Oude Kwaremont is the hill that suits me the most, I approached it with a high speed on the cobbles already suffering, I gave pure power until the top. In the end it was beautiful.”

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Here's the report from third-place Mads Pedersen's Team Trek-Segafredo:

Pedersen caused upset amongst 'The Big Three' at Ronde van Vlaanderen as he took the race by the scruff of the neck before sprinting to third place on the line.
The start of this year’s race was unrelenting and it was clear that there was a lot of nerves in the bunch with the early attacks being consistently chased down and crashes causing carnage.

Mads Pedersen wins the sprint for third. Sirotti photo

With all that going on, thankfully the Team was able to escape relatively unscathed and eventually, after remaining attentive at the front of the peloton throughout the 100 kilometers of chaos alongside Mathias Vacek, Daan Hoole made it into a strong breakaway.

This was a perfect scenario for Trek-Segafredo and its team leader, Pedersen, who went on to attack off the front of the peloton early, making his move on the Wolvenberg with 110 kilometers still to go before joining Hoole at the front of the race.

The Danish rider continued to throw everything he had at the race and by the time he hit the foot of the Oude Kwaremont for the final time, he had attacked out of the leading group to go solo onto the iconic climb.

Behind him, the battle between ‘The Big Three’ had been brewing for some time and it was at this point of the race that Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) made his ultimately winning move with Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin – Deceuninck) the only other rider able to get in front of Pedersen.

As we have come to expect, Pedersen remained fully committed right to the end of the 273.4-kilometer race and he was the first to launch his sprint in the chasing group.

It was a close call on the line behind Pogačar and van der Poel…

…but the photo finish eventually confirmed that Pedersen had just enough in his reserve tank to win the sprint for third place and secure a spot on the podium at Ronde van Vlaanderen for the first time since finishing second in 2018.

Ronde van Vlaanderen in Mads’ own words…
“I can’t complain today, everything happened pretty much as I wanted. I didn’t know exactly when I wanted to go but I knew I wanted to go early. I said before the race I wanted to anticipate and be in front of ‘The Big Three’ when they were going and we succeeded with the plan quite well but they still came pretty fast. I believed I could win today and even though in the end, Pogačar and van der Poel were stronger, I am really happy. I am always racing to win but a podium result here is still really good.”

“When Pogi went passed me on the Kwaremont, I knew I couldn’t follow him and it would have been stupid to try to do it. He’s also fighting to win the Tour de France so, of course, he is faster than me on climbs and that’s not a pity. I think trying to follow him would have been a mistake as if I popped then I would have been out of the group I was in, so I wanted to keep my own tempo.

“Then, when Mathieu passed me on the top I really wanted to stay on his wheel but it was not possible but I am really satisfied with today. I knew I had to do something. We talk about those three and they are by far the strongest but if you try to anticipate and get in front of them then the results can still happen and I think I took my chance today and I ended with a good result.

“I think I did a little bit too long of a sprint but I managed to keep Wout behind on the finish line. I think everyone was pretty empty at that point, but it was still a nice sprint. It’s never easy to beat him, he’s a fast sprinter but I did enough and I am happy I could beat him for the third place.”

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Here's the report from fourth-place Wout van Aert's Team Jumbo-Visma:

Wout van Aert has finished fourth in the Tour of Flanders. The Belgian Team Jumbo-Visma leader was in contention for the win on several occasions, but on the final ascent of the Kruisberg, he was forced to admit defeat to the competition. Tadej Pogacar won the race after arriving in Oudenaarde alone.

Early in the race, the favourites got a wake-up call. In the fast early stages of the race, echelons were formed, and the riders of Team Jumbo-Visma proved to be alert. A massive crash in the peloton at about 140 kilometres from the finish line caused numerous riders, including Van Aert and Edoardo Affini, to smash into the tarmac. The Belgian hurt his left knee but was able to get back on his bike quickly.

Nathan Van Hooydonck was the first Team Jumbo-Visma rider to attack. He advanced to the front of the race in a strong group. In the background, the top favourites accelerated on the second climb of the Oude Kwaremont. After a while, an elite group formed that included Van Aert, Pogacar, Mathieu van der Poel, Tom Pidcock, and Christophe Laporte.

Nathan Van Hooydonck on the Oude Kwaremont. Sirotti photo

On the final climb of the Kruisberg, Van der Poel made a move. Van Aert had to leave a gap after a strong effort and was struggling. Van Hooydonck stayed with Van Aert and helped him close the gap towards the front of the race. The E3 Saxo Classic winner ultimately could not answer the accelerations of Pogacar and Van der Poel, among others. In Oudenaarde, Van Aert eventually sprinted to fourth place.

“A super fast and chaotic race with a long and tough final”, said Van Aert of the fastest edition in the history of the Tour of Flanders. “With Nathan at the front, the team’s plan worked well. It ensured we didn’t have to take the initiative at the front and just behind. It became a man-to-man battle a little earlier than we had expected. Pogacar and Van der Poel proved to be stronger today.”

The 28-year-old Team Jumbo-Visma leader noticed that things were getting more difficult in the race’s closing stages, but he continued to fight. “I basically lost the race on the Kruisberg, but I was not going to admit defeat. We deserved to be on the podium. Therefore I feel bad for the team that I missed the podium by a hair. But I had to acknowledge my superiority today. I am disappointed because I came here to win. The form is not bad, but that doesn’t mean anything now. I have to let it sink in. I congratulate Pogacar. He deserved to win”, Van Aert said.

Van Hooydonck once again showed his strong legs in the final. “In the breakaway, I tried to save as much energy as possible to help Wout as in the final. I gave everything to get him to the front. It was a bad sign that he had to give in on the Kruisberg. Just before we caught up on the Oude Kwaremont, I encouraged him and told him that the race was not over yet. He still sprinted for a podium place at the very end, which says a lot about his character. Sadly, we fell short of our goal today, but we won’t give up now”, the Belgian said.

Sports director Arthur van Dongen interpreted the race. “We performed well in the race. We had bad luck with the crashes of Tosh Van der Sande, Edoardo Affini and Wout. It’s a shame, but fortunately, it didn’t affect the race. Nathan went along well, which put us in a perfect situation. Regrettably, Wout had to decline the Kruisberg. At that point, tactics make little sense. It’s the legs that have to do the work. We have to be realistic and conclude that others were better today.”

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And here's the Flanders report from Stefan Küng's Team Groupama-FDJ:

The Tour of Flanders never does any favours, but on Sunday, it also gave almost no rest to the riders. Following an extremely lively first half of the race, the major moves indeed began more than one hundred kilometres from the finish. Stefan Küng immediately entered the fight and was thus able to take a step ahead. The Swiss rider stayed in front of the race until the last twenty-three kilometres, before the last Oude Kwaremont-Paterberg sequence. There, Tadej Pogacar flew away to victory as the Groupama-FDJ man fought hard in the back to secure sixth place in the fastest “Ronde” in history.

Stefan Küng on the Oude Kwaremont. Sirotti photo

The Belgian “holy” week was set to come to an end this Sunday with, as a high point, the second Monument of the season – for some the most beautiful event of the year -. Seven years later, the Tour of Flanders also returned to Bruges, the starting point of 273 kilometres featuring nineteen hills and six cobbled sections. One hundred kilometres preceded the very first climbs, and even one hundred and thirty had to be covered before entering the start of a relentless sequence. It did not prove straightforward until then, though.

After thirty kilometres, Valentin Madouas, Kevin Geniets and Fabian Lienhard were caught in a split. It all came back together half an hour later, but the Frenchman, third in the 2022 Tour of Flanders, was forced to leave the event due to health issues. “He had a little stomach-ache this morning and he hoped it would be okay,” said Frédéric Guesdon. “Unfortunately, the start was pretty fast and he got distanced in the wind. He immediately understood that he wouldn’t be able to be up there, and he preferred not to push. We weren’t surprised by this start, because a lot of teams wanted to get ahead of the big guys and put a man in front. It therefore made sense that the breakaway would take long to go”.

While Groupama-FDJ was down to six with one of his leaders out of the race, the breakaway eventually managed to establish itself after a hundred kilometres. Guillaume Van Keirsbulck (Bingoal WB), Daan Hoole (Trek-Segafredo), Jasper De Buyst (Lotto-Dstny), Filippo Colombo (Q36.5) and Elmar Reinders (Jayco-AlUla) first took the lead, soon joined by Tim Merlier (Soudal Quick-Step), Jonas Rutsch (EF Education-EasyPost) and Hugo Houle (Israel-Premier Tech).

For about thirty kilometres, the peloton tried to catch its breath and therefore let the breakaway take a six-minute lead, but the attacks resumed very quickly after the Eikenberg. “It took more than a hundred kilometres for the breakaway to go, and then it never really eased down,” testified Stefan Küng.

After Lewis Askey proved vigilant in the first part of the race, Kevin Geniets managed to follow an interesting first move about one hundred and ten kilometres from the finish. The Luxembourger was unfortunately distanced a few moments later because of a puncture, Sam Watson went in counterattack, but the peloton eventually got back together before the Molenberg. It is there, with one hundred and five kilometres to go, that the race really opened up. “I saw in the Kerkgate that everyone was already in trouble,” explained Stefan. “It was the same thing in the Molenberg, so I said to myself: I’m going as soon as someone moves”. “We knew that the three big favorites would be hard to beat, so we had to anticipate, which Stefan did”, added Frédéric Guesdon. “Many had the same plan as us, and that’s why this breakaway proved successful.”

More than a hundred kilometres from the line, the Swiss man got into a threatening group ahead of the peloton with Florian Vermeersch (Lotto-Soudal), Neilson Powless (EF Education-Easy Post), Kasper Asgreen (Soudal-Quick Step), Matteo Trentin (UAE Team Emirates), Fred Wright (Bahrain-Victorious), Jhonatan Narvaez (Ineos Grenadiers), Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo), Nathan Van Hooydonck (Jumbo-Visma), then Benoit Cosnefroy (AG2R-Citroën) and Matteo Jorgenson (Movistar).

The gap increased quickly for this outsiders’ group, so much so they enjoyed a 2-minute gap when they caught the first breakaway. Due to a poor chase in the bunch, Stefan Küng and his companions even had three minutes of a margin starting the second ascent of Oude Kwaremont. At the top, however, this gap was reduced by half due to Tadej Pogacar’s attack in the back. The breakaway also reduced to twelve men in the Paterberg while the terrible slopes of the Koppenberg held the group together. The collaboration was maintained for some time, before Mads Pedersen took the lead solo in the Kruisberg, where Van der Poel and Pogacar also distanced Van Aert before catching Stefan Küng’s group with twenty -three kilometres to go.

Then, from the bottom of the “last” Oude Kwaremont, the Slovenian and the Dutchman went full gas, and the double Tour winner made a difference that he managed to keep until the end. In the back, Stefan Küng gave his all to stay in the mix. Following the Paterberg, the last climb of the course, he was still in a seven-man group fighting for the podium. “I think we were all about the same level in the group, and the race was so hard that nobody could do the extra effort in the final,” Stefan said. “It was a very tough race until the end. I gave my best, but I couldn’t do anything to keep up with Pogacar and Van der Poel. They were just a level above us, and we were all a little dead behind”.

In the last twelve kilometres leading to Oudernaarde, Tadej Pogacar secured his victory, Mathieu van der Poel kept his second place, while the chasing group continued to work together until the flamme rouge. In the end, it all came down to a sprint for the remaining top-10 places, and Stefan Küng fought hard to grab sixth position. “We came to get the best possible result”, concluded Frédéric. “It’s a pity that Valentin was ill, but sixth is not bad. We don’t have too many regrets. Everyone was riding well in the team, and we are where we belong”.

In the fastest Tour of Flanders ever (44 km/h) and after more than a hundred kilometres at the head of the race, Stefan Küng obtained his second top-10 on the 2023 Flemish Classics (6th at the E3 Saxo Classic) while his favorite race is yet to come. “Stefan is having a good Classics campaign”, said Frédéric. “It was difficult to do better than last year, but we are doing almost as well. There is still Paris-Roubaix where we hope to improve the ranking of last year (3rd). He is in good shape, so we can be confident”.

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