There were the same ones who offered a magnificent show in Milan-San Remo. There were the same ones that in just over a week (April 2) will pursue the Tour of Flanders, the second Monument of the season. And Wout van Aert took the dress rehearsal, confirming his victory last year in Harelbeke. 39 of the 61 editions of the race had been for Belgians. Another one falls on an E3 Saxo Classic for the memory. An ode to cycling. An episode made up of three chapters: Van der Poel’s Taaienberg, Pogacar’s Paterberg and Van Aert’s victory in a sprint between the three, perfectly in parallel. It was the one that had saved the most throughout his career and, surely, the one that had suffered the most, but it was clear to him. “He was focused on the sprint,” he admitted. The most beautiful podium in the history of this race? “Above all, because I’m in it,” she said after raising her arms. He did not put the best brushstrokes, but he signed the painting. And that’s what sports are about.
The rain made an appearance in the first kilometers of the work of art. Or from the movie. As in the recent, crazy and exciting Bruges-La Panne; as if the route, hard in itself, needed more incentives. Long live spring, long live Belgium. 204 kilometers with 2,133 meters of unevenness spread over 17 levels. Among them, Paterberg and Oude Kwaremont, but in the opposite direction to ‘De Ronde’. Cobblestones, climbs, plains, attack goes and attack comes. Mathias Norsgaard, starting a splendid day for Movistar (Matteo Jorgenson, who even tried it alone, was fourth and Iván García Cortina, fifth), managed to get into a break for believers. From above, drops fell; from behind, a downpour was coming. The UAE and the Jumbo assumed control from the beginning, safeguarding their gunpowder; Van der Poel, without regard, launched the first firecracker. Also the second. Bestiality in two acts. The first chapter was his; the second, from Pogacar. The definitive one, by Van Aert, who gave up the leading role in the previous ones.
Contact with the pavés activated the animal side of the Dutchman, which needs little to appear. “I expect chaos and tension”, he had anticipated pogi on the starting line. And entropy made an appearance in the Taaienberg. Van der Poel, with a sharp change of pace, of his own, connected with the breakaways, leaving behind even his teammate Dries De Bondt, and caused the first big cut of the race. Van Aert or Laporte followed him; Tadej, feigning surprise, stayed. Before reaching Berg ten Stene, calm down. The groups reunited again. Just after Eikenberg, 57 km from the finish, another explosion. Mathieu again. And Wout to wheel. This time, however, Pogacar did complete the trident called to dispute the victory. With them, Van Hooydonck (Jumbo), Kragh Andersen (Alpecin) and Matej Mohoric (Bahrain). Those of Sanremo reunited. Less Filippo Ganna and with luxury guests. For not too long.
Van Aert’s plan
Change of protagonist Out secondary. New chapter. A serial that is constantly replaced: Pogacar, on the attack. A guaranteed success. With 43 km to go, the Slovenian accelerated in Paterberg. And shortly after, on Oude Kwaremont. With Flanders, one of his great objectives of the season, in his head. And with his ass glued to the saddle. Van der Poel and Van Aert, standing behind him. Nobody else. Swinging their long and strong bodies, protecting their territory against a runner who has also set out to conquer their privileges. In the case of the Belgian, with more difficulties, about to give up on several points, but firm until the end. Until you cross the finish line. The three of them watching each other, as if they didn’t know each other, and even coordinated, throwing the drums at the same time. “Without speaking,” as Wout revealed. Behind, Mohoric, Cortina, Jorgenson and Küng preventing relaxation. Impossible with Pogacar present, who was looking back and was the first to threaten to launch himself towards the finish line, three from the end. At 1.3, I tried again. In that context, he was the one with the least chance. He had no other. Already with the goal in sight, he was also the first to jump. And the first to leave. The eternal heads-up, from cyclocross to the road. This time, for Van Aert, with the simplest plan, but the most effective.