OUDENAARDE, Belgium – Dutchman Mathieu van der Poel beat Belgian rider Wout van Aert in a photo finish to win the the Tour of Flanders for the first time on Sunday, while contender Julian Alaphilippe crashed out near the end after hitting a motorbike.
Van der Poel and van Aert sprinted to the line with under 200 metres left and Van der Poel beat his former Cyclo-cross rival by less than half a wheel’s length.
After finding out he’d emulated his father Adrie van der Poel, who won the race in 1986, he raised his bike over his head and shouted in delight. His maternal grandfather was the late Raymond Poulidor, who finished on the Tour de France podium eight times without ever winning.
Norwegian rider Alexander Kristoff was third, just like last year.
Alaphilippe was in contention until he hit a motorbike 35 kilometres (22 miles) from the end. The French rider was behind Van Aert and Van Der Poel when he appeared not to see the motorbike slowing down to his right.
He hit it with his arm and span off his bike, then lay screaming on the ground as he clutched his right arm. Medics tended to him and he was soon sitting upright and seemed conscious.
First held in 1913, the race in the Flemish Ardennes region is also known as De Ronde and is one of five classics along with Milan-San Remo, Paris-Roubaix, Liege-Bastogne-Liege and the Giro di Lombardia.
It features up to 19 short but punishing climbs _ such as the Paterberg and Koppenberg _ and is one of the two classics with cobblestone sections along with Paris-Roubaix, called off this year amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Alaphilippe was among the favourites after capturing the world title and then winning the Belgian semi-classic at Brabantse Pijl.
Belgian rider Greg Van Avermaet did not take part after crashing at the Liege-Bastogne-Liege race and sustaining several fractures.
Because of COVID-19, organizers took the unique step of not releasing race information in a concerted effort to discourage fans from attending.
“Given the current health situation in Belgium, we as an organisation call on you to follow the race at home,” read a brief statement on the race’s website. “It was therefore decided not to release any information about the course.”
Still, a handful watched in places along the shortened route of 244 kilometres (151 miles) – compared to 267 (166) last year – from Anvers to Oudenaarde in eastern Flanders.
Shortly after the halfway point, the Milan-San Remo winner Van Aert was one of several riders caught in a crash. But he was soon back on his bike and catching up with the pack.
After a breakaway group of six riders was caught about 50 kilometres from the end, Alaphilippe started to increase the speed with Van der Poel and Van Aert alongside him.