Van der Poel wins Tour of Flanders for record-equaling third time

Netherland's Mathieu van der Poel of the Alpecin-Deceuninck team holds his bike up at the finish line after taking first place in the Tour of Flanders in Oudenaarde, Belgium on Sunday, March 31, 2024. (AP/Geert Vanden Wijngaert)

OUDENAARDE, Belgium — World champion Mathieu van der Poel was untouchable in tough, rainy conditions on Sunday as the Dutch rider claimed a record-equaling third win at the Tour of Flanders cobbled classic, one of cycling’s most challenging one-day races.

In the absence of several rivals, Van der Poel was the favorite from the start. He met expectations in style with a long-range attack in a brutal climb.

The Tour of Flanders is one of the “monuments” of cycling — the five most prestigious one-day events in the sport — along with Milan-San Remo, Paris-Roubaix, Liege-Bastogne-Liege and the Giro di Lombardia.

First held in 1913, the race is also known as De Ronde (The Tour). It features multiple short but punishing climbs and is one of the two classics with cobblestone sections along with Paris-Roubaix.

Elisa Longo Borghini won the women’s race to claim a second title following her 2015 victory in Flanders. She won a sprint ahead of Kasia Niewiadoma and Shirin van Anrooij.

Van der Poel attacked from a group of contenders in the ascent of the Koppenberg, with about 45 kilometers (28 miles) left in the race.

Ivan Garcia Cortina, the lone remaining breakaway rider, had a mechanical problem and was swallowed on the cobbles made slippery by the rain. Most of the riders had to dismount and walk up the iconic climb while Van der Poel, sitting firmly on his saddle, used his immense power to reach the top of the hill first, and then destroyed the field.

Spurred on by thousands of vociferous fans lining the roads, Van der Poel did not look back afterward and opened a huge gap as he continued his amazing solo effort in the remaining climbs. Van der Poel slowed down near the finish and, once he crossed the line, held up his bike in triumph.

Van der Poel joined a group of riders with the most Tour of Flanders wins (3), along with Achiel Buysse, Fiorenzo Magni, Eric Leman, Johan Museeuw, Tom Boonen and Fabian Cancellara.

Luca Mozzato was the best of the chasers to clinch second place, ahead of Nils Politt after Michael Matthews was relegated from third to 11th following a jury decision.

Defending champion Tadej Pogacar skipped the race this year, focusing instead on his preparations for Liege-Bastogne-Liege on April 21 and the Giro d’Italia in May. Other big names missing included Wout van Aert and fellow Belgian rider Jasper Stuyven, who were both ruled out after crashing at high speed during a preparation event last week.

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