The Moment The Ronde Van Vlaanderen Was Won

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So what do you do when you’re a big favourite to win but the two other riders everyone is tipping are bound to out-sprint you? Make them suffer on every uphill stretch and turn final climb into a tortuous effort. Tadej Pogačar did just that, launching on many climbs before making his final move on the Oude Kwaremont to go away solo. This kept Mads Pedersen and Mathieu van der Poel at bay so all he had to worry about was holding on for the finish. Easy to say, hard to do. This was an overwinning by Pogačar.

A fast and nervous start, although “start” meant the first 100km. Grey skies, wet roads and a pesky wind might seem typically Flemish but it made for a long opening phase. The peloton was nervous in the crosswinds and at one point Mathieu van der Poel was caught out by a split in the field. Bahrain drove the pace and if this didn’t feel like panic stations, Van der Poel’s team burned up riders to bring him back. It took 100km before a breakaway of eight barged clear: Daan Hoole, Tim Merlier, Guillaume Van Keirsbulck, Jasper De Buyst, Filippo Colombo, Elmar Reinders, Jonas Rutsch and, just Hugo Houle. Winners? Surely not but a decent team time trial squad, tough work for the chasers and some tactical cards being played. The stress was seen in other ways with crash after crash, including a massacre by Maciejuk when the Bahrain rider tried to move up on the side of the road, hit a patch of grass that was more like a bog, pivoted diagonally across the front of the bunch and felled plenty of riders with several quitting the race but it was one crash among many. g

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Kopgroep, waaiers? No the word of the day at the start had been anticiperen, the tactic of attacking early to get ahead of events with the hope of hitching a ride when the big names roll past. Most of the field knew they weren’t going to match the “Big Three” of Van der Poel, Van Aert and Pogačar in a race up the Kwaremont-Paterberg so better to try something else. This started in earnest with 110km to go when Mads Pedersen launched up the Wolvenberg and had quality company with Kasper Asgreen, Matteo Trentin, Neilson Powless, Stefan Küng, Jhonathan Narvaez, Fred Wright, Nathan Van Hooydonck, Florian Vermeersch, with Benoît Cosnefroy and Matteo Jorgenson also joining.

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With 65km to go the breakaway group led by three minutes, a big gap for any team to close given the strength of the breakaway; let alone for the Big Three to hop across in one go. A doubt began to creep in, was it too late to react? And if they did, would it be too costly and the winner was up the road? The uncertainty was perfect for drama, time was running out but there was none of the deflating feeling of the race being over. Indeed as they raced to the Oude Kwaremont for the second time the chase brought the lead down by a minute within a few kilometres. UAE hit the front like they were doing a sprint lead-out. You could tell Pogačar was going to launch but only a few riders within range could react and just then both Van Aert and Van der Poel were a few too many wheels back, close enough to see him go but not directly on his wheel to try and follow instantly.

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Maybe they could not have followed even if they were sat on Pogačar’s wheel. The Slovenian was superior uphill, able to create gaps and seemingly floating on pavé. So much for all the lore of knowing the lay of the land and where the wind blows, Pogačar was intent on reducing the course to a ramp test. The plan was to make the long climb of the Kwaremont as suffocating as possible for the two Vans. Still what to do in between? Having floated away he was now solo with 55km to go. The breakaway was 90 seconds up the road, its lead halved in the space of ten kilometres. Press on or not? He didn’t have to decide as Christophe Laporte bridged across. How much would Pogačar have gone alone on the flat is worth asking but Laporte’s move at least meant there was no politicking between Van Aert and Van der Poel over who should chase and soon they were all back together, the Big Three plus Laporte and briefly Tom Pidcock, an extra star in the constellation but he wouldn’t shine for long.

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Onto the Koppenberg. While the race uses circuits and passes through many places several times, there’s no chance of déjà vu with this climb. A cynic would say it’s only used once as you can’t fit a giant VIP tent here given the road cut like a trench into the woodland, but even our cynic would agree once is plenty. It’s always a selective climb and caused the front group to fracture. It also shrunk the Pogačar group to just the Big Three as Pidcock and Laporte were left behind.

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The Kruijsberg and Hotond part of the course is less celebrated but often crucial to the race, a moment where many want to catch their breath. Mads Pedersen made a move on the approach and quickly got a gap. Of all the riders in the group Pedersen could have thought about playing his sprint card but here he was again with some anticiperen. As The Big Three caught and passed riders ejected from the front group, Van der Poel decided to attack up the Kruijsberg and Pogačar responded but Van Aert was in trouble and much of Flanders must have sighing as a gap opened up. WvA could chase and would collect Van Hooydonck from the break but even if he could get back, a repeat would surely only happen again. And that was about all Jumbo-Visma could do.

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Onto the cobbled part of the Oude Kwaremont and Pogačar made his move. The slope’s not fierce but the cobbles aren’t easy and within a few pedal strokes you could see a gap open up on Van der Poel. A metre here, a bike length there, suddenly Pogačar was clear. Van der Poel hadn’t been cracked, he seemed full of menace but at the same time not closing in, despite a TV moto riding in front on the way across to the Paterberg. It stayed close and 13 seconds over the top of the Paterberg was advantage Pogačar but no more. The suspense lasted a few more kilometres but once Van der Poel started to dip his head, Pogačar’s started to go up and for once the race fell into a lull as each of the final kilometres ticked past. Pedersen, so active all day, got a reward with third place.

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The Verdict
Rating each edition minutes after they’ve finished is risky but today’s Ronde was a thriller and has all the hallmarks you’d look for, it was stamped with suspense and branded with tension. If you’d read a preview and then seen the result things would look a bit ordinary but it was the way things played out that made it a special edition, the eventual outcome was clear until late. Few will watch the whole race again in one sitting but there’s a lot to review. It had end-to-end action, 50km/h in the first hour and the same again in the second hour and every group that went up the road was a threat. If you’ve learned the Dutch word anticiperen, now their word for victory: overwinning. Pogačar wasn’t just winning today, he was overwinning. So strong he could go solo up many of the climbs and forcing the others to react before doing it one final time to go solo and finish with nobody in the picture.

Instant reaction comes in other forms too. Before he’d cooled down from devouring his third Monument, Pogačar already got questioned if he can win all five. It’s fascinating how pro cycling banks a win and immediately asks what a rider can do next. Logical but we should reflect it wasn’t long ago when the likes of Alejandro Valverde and Vincenzo Nibali seemed brave to start the Ronde; Pogačar showing up and finishing fourth last year was fascinating for the way he raced (and also the slight flash of anger at the finish in an otherwise laidback character). Suddenly it’s all normal that a Tour winner comes and conquers and the question is what he’ll do next. Anyway there are no plans for Paris-Roubaix soon, he told Belgian TV today he’ll have to put on a few kilos; Milan-Sanremo is elusive so completing the set of all five Monuments is a big ask. Yet all these questions feel external, put to Pogačar by the media and those who enjoy cycling’s rich history. He’s still 24 and probably doesn’t give a hoot about all that yet.

Paris-Roubaix is next weekend. No Pogačar but of course Van der Poel and Van Aert. Both were beaten today on their terrain and go into the last cobbled classic hoping for more. Van der Poel burned matches here and there but nothing wild, he can be prone self-arson at times, it’s more he just didn’t have a perfect day, that early chase and a dropped chain. Van Aert too, taken down in a crash, could have been sore and he was climbing like he did in the E3, losing metres in the crucial moments. Described recently on the radio by a Belgian as a mere “sorbet” – as in palate-cleanser at the end of a meal – it’s surely more of a mouthful. Van der Poel and Van Aert will be hungrier than ever.

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98 thoughts on “The Moment The Ronde Van Vlaanderen Was Won”

    • It did seem a little unfair although probably should also be noted the UCI has looked at this and made efforts to remove motos from key sections of races this year – as the helicopter view of MSR and even the climbs here showed.

      Although the removal of motos of Flandrien climbs might have been because of the death/s a few years ago also? I’m not exactly sure?

      • IMO, uci should set the same rules as for the tt, – moto camera only from behind or from the side, at least with lone rider such as was the case today.

    • The UCI though just aren’t so powerful. A point made here several times, they’re run out of offices behind a retail park in the Swiss countryside and telling both Flanders Classics and a TV channel what to do is asking a lot. There’s guidance and some rules for the moto cameras -film sideways or from behind – but getting that close-up as MvdP strains to close the gap is worth more than any fine.

      • The commissaires policing the race are from the KBWN and are there to represent the UCI, and they have the power to order vehicles out of the way and even fine them, don’t they? They don’t work for Flanders Classics anyway, I hope.

        Though, I note the guys at the end who shadow the podium riders – presumably to monitor them until doping control – had FLCS vests on.

        • Paul J: “the guys at the end who shadow the podium riders… ” Do you mean the regular pair of minders who are actually Monuments in their own right? 😉

          • Yep, those 2 :).

            They get plenty of airtime in the spring when the belgian classics are on. I wouldn’t be surprised if I’ve also seen them at the cyclocross World Cup rounds, as Flanders Classics Cycling organises that too – but I don’t remember. I assume they’re FlCs employees anyway.

  1. Great summary as usual and a great and exciting race with a more than worthy winner.
    Maybe the relatively recent set piece of three week race winner and different classics winner is changing, and for the better. Even attacks are taking place from further out and succeeding.
    Roll on Paris – Roubaix!

    • Not sure if this ‘set piece’ of GT and classic winners being separate riders is so recent. The only other two that won both the Tour and Flanders are Bobet and Merckx. Unless you call the last 50 years ‘recent’, of course. Pogacar is an amazing bike rider. Versatile in his skills , entertaining in his style and tactics, sympathetic in interviews.

  2. I agree it was a great edition. The three ‘super-favoris’ (I was watching French TV) showed their superiority. MvdP didn’t have help up the road, Pog hardly used Trentin and WvA only used van Hooijdonk when it was too late. They did it – or not – alone. Real panache!

  3. Thanks for the excellent review.

    There was a moment when the big three were closing on in the breakaway and Pedersen was up the road that it struck me that this was pretty much the perfect race for cycling fans: a big occasion living up to its billing, finely poised with multiple potential outcomes, our heroes in full flight, one of them about to become “super”.

    I must admit, I doubted whether Pogačar could drop the other two on the climbs. I was very very wrong! He went up the Oude Kaaremont like a train. Watching him fly up there mics with the sound of the crowd roaring was genuinely spectacular. It was one of those moments when I felt like I was witnessing genius.

    Fair play, that was a brilliant victory. Pogačar is a great and worthy champion of the Ronde Van Vlandeeren.

    • Sounds like this is a recurring comment from all the below…

      Most (including me!) feel like it was a privilege to watch Pog’s attack (or at least something extra special)… I was thinking afterwards sporting occasions where I’ve felt similar, it’s really in the top bar Usain Bolt Beijing territory.

      I don’t know if cycling’s about to change but it currently seems like being lucky enough to see Pog in his prime is a once, at most twice, in a lifetime opportunity. He’s a marvel.

      • Genius indeed. Nibali’s MSR ride a few years ago was a similar feeling for me. Just a spectacular combination of timing & strength from a rider who you know can do it and hold on, but will they…?

        • Yeah that was amazing… although have to admit I kinda think this was a level up… fair to say though that Nibali (and to a lesser extent Wiggo) blazed a trial for the rebirth of Grand Tour riders interested in Flanders and Roubaix.

          • I tried to remember the participations of Nibali in Flanders and Roubaix. Could not. So I looked up the stats. Zero starts in Roubaix, one in Flanders, 24th place. Not sure how that paved the way. Wiggins at least was part of the action deep in the finale when he went for Roubaix.

        • Completely agree. Haven’t enjoyed a classics victory more than POG’s RVV this year and Nibali’s MSR (2018?). I would probably also include Nibali’s Lombardy win when he was in Astana and descended away from everyone on the final downhill. So amazing. Not enough is made of that win IMHO (or about Lombardy as a race more generally). I digress. All hail the POG!

      • I must admit I replayed the last kwaremont various times. I have never seen that. Not even Cancelara was climbing it like that.

  4. There is so many errors in your english in this, I wonder if you had a couple too many, or used chatGPT.
    Anywhooooo, what a race, and what a rider that win like that? Absolutely complete, even epostrong would have nothing on this guy.

    • What’s going on? For the second time in a week INRNG is ungrammatically criticised for his English. Anand, I could point out the six errors I can spot in your three sentences, but what’s the point? Great race, great review.

        • Many thanks once again for the preview and “The Moment…”, excellent as usual. Given English is likely your second (or third?) language I’m loathe to criticise as I can decipher your prose and appreciate the hidden wordplay. For the sake of overwinning, you might want to check past vs passed as these words will crop up often when describing bike races and their history.

          • My bets are on english being Mr Ring’s first language – the mistakes seem largely to be dropped words, which is a fairly common mistake native speakers make when their typing fingers get way behind the stream of words in their head.

            But ICBW. 😉

        • I don’t have any problem with your grammar. Nevertheless, may I recommend more advanced spell checkers? Perhaps you already know them.
          One is LanguageTool, which covers many languages. For example, it catches the error loth/loath/loathe in one comment below. You can also get a (Firefox) plugin that automatically detects the input language.
          The second is DeepL Write. It also suggests a lot of rewriting, although I think the result can be bland.
          BTW, DeepL Translator is an excellent translator.

    • What’s with this new INRNG criticism?
      Second rude comment in the same week?

      INRNG will always be gracious and thank people for corrections, there’s no need to be obnoxious – or if you need to be mean take it out on us commenters not our host, who runs this excellent blog free of charge and out of the knowledgable goodness of their heart.

    • Or maybe writing quickly right after the race finishes? Not all of us are natural typists.

      I might be the only one who thinks this but IMO Pogacar’s sprint is as good as any after 250 hard km except for MVDP, and even Van der Poel wouldn’t win every time. But clearly his best chance was in a solo break and he was probably the only one who could make it stick like that. Incredible performance. But after last year’s performance, not unexpected.

      Full props to Van der Poel, from the way he weaved all over the finish it was clear he gave it all. Great result for Pedersen also, and Powless and Jorgensen. Powless’s form is excellent right now, but I really didn’t see that coming from Jorgensen.

      • It’s funny following Jorgensen’s recent form I was watching that front group thinking he might surprise even more but wasn’t to be, the effort to catch that break likely took a lot away.

      • Mathieu said in a Dutch interview it was his best Flanders ever, he rode harder than before. There was just one guy riding even harder.

  5. I remember reading an article a few years about the best riders of all time. First was Merckx, obviously, second and third were Coppi and Hinault in some order, and fourth and fifth were Binda and Anquetil, again not sure of the order. I think that Lemond and Kelly were also in the top ten.

    Utterly meaningless, of course, but I would put Pogacar at fourth already, with the potential to be second if he continues on his current trajectory.

    • He’s “only” won the Tour twice. He looks set to be able to get more although then he needs to win Worlds titles as well as Monuments and more. But he’s showing the range to do this and at the point where this seems plausible. But the demands of the job are different, it’s possible he’s retired by the time he’s 30 too.

      • I thought “PO-gatcher” as the Brits like to say, said he could almost retire happily yesterday?
        I enjoyed the race for sure, but didn’t notice MVdP getting towed and I was watching for that…
        OTOH, WTF with the almost track-standing blockage of the road by DSM? Then of course there was Maciejuk’s bonehead move…the fruit of the old “get to the front” DS screaming into the earpiece? Finally, is the GCN guy now just a clown who folks will wonder if he’ll show up in another ghastly sweater next week? And…replace PhilGil on the moto…where’s Wiggo?!?!?

        • Ha I love Adam Blythe – his sweaters are brilliant!
          Also think Dan L is excellent although obviously dip in here, cycling podcast and (apologies) the move for extra cycling analysis even if there wasn’t much to analyse yesterday… Pog attacked and won…

          Just out of interest Larry, why do you dislike someone for their jumpers? It seems almost scarily cliche grumpy old man territory and you’re an energetic free spirited old man not a curmudgeon? Isn’t it nice to have some personality or would you prefer him in a suit?

          I noticed Lance commenting he thought McEwen was the best analyst on GCN but tbh I’ve not really felt this? Do others agree? I just think LA only listens to someone he has a little (begrudging) respect for.

          Either way I think what GCN have done is mighty impressive, to go from a YouTube channel to full fledged broadcaster with a multinational media empire is kind of incredible? I used to find their happy clappy YouTube’s a bit annoying but now have fully signed up and enjoy a lot of the content. I especially like the blond science bloke and anything with Andrew Feather.

          I also love the way they support and promote women’s cycling.

          • “Just out of interest Larry, why do you dislike someone for their jumpers?”
            I see this guy on the Eurosport streaming service though we have the audio in Italian. Last week his gawdawful “jumper” was kind of funny, but he shows up yesterday with another equally ghastly one, so it’s a deliberate gimmick to get people talking…and not about his expertise (or lack thereof) as an expert commentator or the race itself. To me that’s spelled C-L-O-W-N. If that makes me a curmudgeon, I’m OK with it.
            My favorite broadcast team is Luca Gregorio/Riccardo Magrini on Eurosport followed by Francesco Pancani/Alessandro Petacchi on RAI. If it’s a French race where neither of those pairs are available, we’ll listen in French or just ambient sound so I know nothing about the English-language stuff except for the bits inserted (I assume) by GCN like Gilbert 🙁 and before him Wiggo 🙂

          • I shouldn’t bite on these things, but Blythe did at least start RVV 3 times even if they ended DNF, and the 2016 start was in the team of Sagan who went on to win so it’s a least a bit more knowledge and experience than any of the commenters on this blog 😉

          • Yep this is fair.

            I just think we sometimes need people to wear serious clothes to say to us that we’re also watching something serious when truthfully it’s cycling… it’s totally meaningless and makes no difference what someone wears to talk about it!

            I prefer people feel comfortable to wear whatever’s they like when it has no effect on their ability to do their job – especially as similar feelings/distaste for people wearing loud and colourful clothes links up quite quickly to homophobia in life generally.

          • “…bit more knowledge and experience than any of the commenters on this blog.” A lot more! I wasn’t questioning the guy’s qualifications just WTF he wears the ghastly “jumpers” to present them? Aren’t his qualifications enough?

        • Blythe is good even if his fashion choices are questionable. I thought Gilbert did ok on the motorbike as well considering he retired about 5 minutes ago. Having Carlton Kirby on the commentary was unforgivable though.

          • I thought that at least with Kirby commentating at least he won’t be around for Itzulia! I wonder if we can persuade them to do a separate stream without him. I wish they’d make more use of Ian Field who is truly excellent.

        • Wiggins apparently hates cycling now and could n’t care less about it, which is a shame for the sport and his son. He has clearly too many past bad experiences to deal with before he can relate to the sport like the rest of us. One day maybe in the future …

          • Ha – very true Richard S!
            Wiggo is just a bit of a narcissist.

            Understandable given his general life story and experiences as a junior and then stress levels of pro career but I kinda just think his treatment of Froome, implosion after TDF win, need to generally be the centre of attention but then pretend he doesn’t like spotlight etc etc are the trademark signs of someone who a bit self obsessed and regularly throws the kind of hissy fits Wiggo does.

            Usually the most interesting people and makes sense why he’s a good coach guest but pretty annoying in long term.

          • oldDave – I never thought much of Wiggo as a rider but love him on the moto while for me Gilbert is just the reverse. Perhaps “narcissism” (as you describe it) is a good trait to have as a TV presenter? But even if Wiggo is not longer available, there’s GOT to be someone out there better than Gilbert…or maybe Phil will grow into the job? Stating the obvious from the back of a moto is a waste of gasoline and the moto pilot’s effort!

          • Why not go easy on people? Is Wiggins perfect? No, no at all. But… who can say they are? He’s no ogre either though. He does have an encyclopaedic knowledge of road cycle racing, and a lot of insights though.

            Basically… let’s go easy on each other.

            I think Carlton is good and serves a purpose too. You need someone /like/ him to fill all the hours – the “cycling brains” would be burned out otherwise (and up similar or worse).

          • Again misunderstanding.

            I like Wiggins.

            I also meant ‘good couch guest’ not ‘coach guest’ so agree with you completely Larry and thought I was making the same point.

            Also highlighted reasons for why he might be a bit tiresome and interesting at the same time like any narcissist, so not berating him as he’s a far better person than me even if I think he’s a bit self obsessed and can be annoying from time to time.

          • Paul J – I don’t mind Carlton Kirby as filler. I agree he serves a purpose in that role, particularly the early stages of an entirely live Tour stage. In that role that he can talk about cheese and wine and pretend he’s a variety act in a club somewhere. But put him away when you get within 100km of the line. He’s terrible at the end of any race, he gets way over excited and just shouts. He also talks absolute rubbish about tactics and regularly has to be corrected by whoever is sat with him. Like yesterday when he was debating with himself whether Narvaez was dropping back to help Pidcock when it was as clear as day that he had been dropped. All of Rob Hatch, Dan Lloyd, Adam Blyth, Robbie McEwan, Brian Smith, Declan Quigley, Magnus Backstedt… anyone you can name really, are far superior to him. Even Sean Kelly.

          • Maybe he seems worse at the end of a race, but I still think more than likely at those points the “cycling brains” are quite occupied trying to understand the race and formulate some good insight to give – meaning /more/ need for Kirby (or whomever is in that role) to fill the air.

            you see this in commentary across /all/ sports. There is a chatty one who can’t stop talking – and invariably anyone fulfilling such a role ends up talking nonsense at some points – and there is the quieter and more throughful one who injects meaningful stuff in between.

            As for Sean Kelly, what do you mean? He is _very_ insightful. Some of the most insightful comments on race tactics come from him. He has a great racing brain – he had to have in his career (he was always a canny rider), and it shows in his commentary in critical moments of the race, I generally think anyway. 😉

            [disclaimer: I’ve got Kelly’s autobiography, signed, and a green TdF podium jersey, signed by the big man – I may be a fan. 😉 – and I’m dying to corner him one day and get him to sign the Wickes and PDM jerseys I have 😉 ]

    • I’ve always admired breadth over depth in palmarès, and while Pogačar is – IMHO – not yet at the same level as the likes of Hinault, Coppi, Gimondi – much less Merckx – et al, he is also young and well on his way. (I think I heard it mentioned that he is only the second rider – after you know who – to have won three different monuments before his twenty fifth birthday). Perhaps more importantly, after 30 years of specialisation in which GT riders rarely shone in the classics – especially the cobbled ones – and classics riders might be on an extended summer break by July, he is reversing that trend in major fashion.

      With regard breadth:

      – Anquetil, Merckx, Gimondi, Hinault, Contador, Nibali and Froome won all three Grand Tours at least once
      – Van Looy, Merckx and Roger De Vlaeminck won all five monuments
      – Fausto Coppi, Jan Janssen, Merckx, Gimondi and Hinault won the “trilogy” of Tour de France, Paris Roubaix and World Championship

      Merckx uniquely is on all three lists; Gimondi and Hinault on two of them. Pogačar still has a way to go, but at this point in his career, getting onto at least one, and just conceivably all three, of those lists would seem at least feasible. Possibly the structure of the season and the desires of his sponsors as to which races he rides might be at least as big a barrier as his own physical capabilities.

      • Riders who won at least two different GTs *and* at least two different Monuments? Pogacar isn’t included (yet), nor another often forgotten great (albeit cited above) as Bobet.

        • I should have included Bobet in my list of riders who have won Tour de France, World Championship and Paris Roubaix, of course – and also, pre-war, Georges Speicher.

          Two different GTs and two different monuments:- You largely rule out any pre-war rider from consideration, when the Vuelta scarcely existed and the Giro was largely a parochial affair. (For example, Binda and Girardengo rarely contested the Tour de France despite being dominant in Italy). You also have to consider that the heirarchy of races does shift over time, for example until the early 1960s Bordeaux – Paris was considered very important, but had faded into oblivion by the 1980s. The five “monuments” have always been important, but I think grouping them together under that name seems fairly recent: I can’t remember it being used as a term, say, 30 years ago.

          Off the top of my head, I think “at least two different GTs and two different monuments” would include Coppi, Bartali, Gimondi, Merckx, Hinault and Nibali. If you expand the scope to include Bordeaux-Paris, you additionally get Jan Janssen and Jacques Anquetil.

          Quite a few “near misses”; a non-exhaustive list would include Bobet (TdF and four different monuments, Bordeaux Paris, 2nd in the Giro); Kelly (Vuelta, four different monuments; 4th in the TdF); Bugno (Giro, Milan SanRemo and Lombardy; 2nd in TdF).

    • Pogacar’s trajectory is mind-bending. Unmatched physical abilities, and he learns from his tactical mistakes.
      The quantity & quality of competition is so much higher in recent years, and I am skeptical that Merckx could be as dominant today, as in his prime.
      As a very crude analogy, only 3 American high school boys had run 4:00 minute or faster miles on the track, up until the year 2000. Jim Ryun ran 5 of those 7, sub-4 minute miles, including the first one in 1964.
      But since 2001, the 4-minute barrier has been broken 19 times by 14 different boys (if my counting is correct). Improved training, nutrition, track surfaces, etc.

      • Not exactly as dominant, perhaps, but comparing with track and field makes little sense in a sport like cycling which isn’t about pure performance in a controlled environment. Merckx had to face a significant number of rivals who, despite having to share available victories, also made history books even from a quantitative point of view.
        And, by the way, why would you bring Merckx to current days without applying to him all the improvements? Of course, we don’t know if they’d work as well for him, but in that case we just can’t say anything at all.
        As I commented before, the few figures we have don’t anyway offer a clear-cut perspective in the case of cycling, maybe because the base of athletes practicing the sport hasn’t evolved in a very clear manner, either, both in terms of quality and in terms of quantity. Potential top athletes in different European countries – in general, physical terms – clearly saw cycling as an option in the past, not as much nowadays (although that might be changing). The number of countries involved has surely grown, but I’m far from sure about the absolute number of athletes practising cycling as they aim at a pro career in the sport. Perhaps that’s now changing again, anyway…

      • You’re comparing the runners to a specific, objective, performance benchmark. Running tracks and shoes have changed greatly and increased speed. A similar comparison in cycling would be to compare, say, record TT speeds.

        E.g., Merck’s hour record, there are probably still next to 0 riders who could beat that today. Boardman only beat it by ~10 metres, and Boardman had a modern tight-fighting skin suit – where Merckx had a silk skinsuit, which was visibly flapping at the shoulders during his attempt. Sosenka got 269 metres faster, with similar modern clothing.

        It’s a real shame the Athlete’s hour record was not retained by the UCI.

      • Froome did some of the Roubaix cobbles in TdF 2018 (which was very dry & dusty, I recall) and despite crashing at least once, came in with all the GC favourites – including Pozzovivo! – at only 30 seconds down to the winner Dagenkolb.
        Funny you mention Froome, as I was thinking of his 2018 Giro ride to victory on stage 19, because of the “fuelling” that he needed and what Pogačar had done to maintain “full gas” for so long. Did UAE have extra people on the course with drinks, gels etc.?

        • Funny you say this – that ride was also in my mind. Both yesterday and that ride are the most impressive rides I’ve seen in last decade, maybe aside from Pog’s own previous four highs (Vuelta on debut, TDF TT ’20, TDF rain day climb, Strade 50km solo) but assume Pog having teammates later into race might have helped and less climbing overall but who knows, it’s a good question. Pog is also a significantly better rider than Froome!

          • After writing I had more of a think…

            2018 Froome Giro is actually a long time ago?
            That day took extra staff and thought but I assume every team and rider has learnt since then and the process is more streamlined?

            Here’s MVDP’s nutrition plan from the race –

            I suspect despite everyone knowing nutrition was important and these stem plans being present before 2018, they’ve likely come on leaps and bounds in intervening years and Pogacar’s plan was more routine yesterday than it was for Froome back then?

            I was thinking similar about Zwift recently and it’s big Hayman Roubaix win where it gave him an advantage but now is so standard I wonder if it’s raised the bar for an entire generation and the new younger riders are as much a result of Zwift as anything else.

          • Thanks for the photo of MvdP’s nutrition plan – seems to be 2 sorts of bars, 2 sorts of bottles, 2 sorts of gels(?) and very interesting, something with a “smiley face”! (I know what that meant in my youth, but …). Maybe someone else can explain it better.

            Froome had a few instances of losing time and blaming it on “fuelling” or nutrion, and Pogacar’s implosion on stage 11 of last year’s TdF was put down to “fuelling” so I’m guessing that for days with more “full gas” racing then it’s an extra bowl of porridge (or the equivalent) at breakfast for Pogacar and more gels etc during the day. If there’s more “full gas” racing then expected and hot then it can be a problem.
            As Mr Ring pointed out in the Ronde preview, Pogacar’s best tactic to win was to go “full gas” and often, so as it went so fast and for so long from km 0, he maybe had the extra reserves and preparation to exploit the high speed. Just my 2 cents worth.

          • With this tactic in mind of taking every climb at full tilt, and Cancellara mentioned it in his CN column too, then do we already know his tactic for Milan-Sanremo next year? I.e absolute balls to the wall from the bottom of the Cipressa and then again on the Poggio? It’d be hard to see anyone following if he did.

          • Now I see Pidcock, “had a complete hunger flat” and “I’m amazed I even made it to the finish”, so even Ineos are still messing things up.

          • Did Pidcock have a hunger flat, or does his ego not allow him to admit when he’s beaten in a straight fight? It sounds like the type of thing most folk come out with after they’ve been dropped, me included.

  6. I really enjoyed this one!
    at one point when the breakaway had 3 mins – it seemed plausible – and boom – Pogachar – we just have to enjoy a cyclist with some much talent – this might be biased – but the beating what seems like one of strongest classic fields for a long time.
    Only torn – I would personally like to see a twist to the last 12ish kms on the wide roads.
    Kudus for the usual quality (p)reviews

    • Thanks to INRNG once again for the clarity of the overview, ad free and pay wall absent too. The person making derogatory comments would do well to remember that.

      Unsure why I don’t have this edition down as one of the best. A good race for sure but maybe because there is a certain amount of inevitability about who will feature on the podium when ‘The Big 3’ are on the start line. Another reason maybe is my preference for the old route with the Mur and Bosberg in the finale.

      As a long time supporter of this blog site before I retired from Prendas Ciclismo, I would like once again, to offer up big thanks to INRNG for the always informed comment. ‘Long may you run’

  7. Inring as usual great article which thank you.Anand need to see the light what a …….
    Chapeau Mr P brilliant ,the way he gain time not just on the climbs but also on the flat over the last how many Km just a star
    Thank you for the entertainment AGAIN CHAPEAU

  8. It has been said by others but I think it is really good to see a rider who doesn’t just rest on his GT laurels. The energiser bunny just kept bouncing back. What will he be like when he is fully mature!

  9. An excellent race. I was busy yesterday and came to it with about 65km to go and couldn’t believe that such a strong breakaway had been allowed to go. At that point I was convinced the winner was coming from that group. Then when Pedersen got 30 odd seconds I was convinced he’d win. Pogacar made an idiot out of me twice. His second time up the Kwaremont where he made up that half a minute on Pedersen and went past him like he was an old lady on a shopping bike is potentially the most impressive thing I’ve ever seen in cycling. I think we have to appreciate what we’re watching at the moment. In Pogacar an all timer in the Merckx, Hinault etc bracket where the type of race doesn’t seem to matter. If he’s in it he can win it. In MvdP too I think we have one of the very greatest one day riders too. They make poor old Wout look a little bit mortal sometimes. He’ll probably console himself with 4 stages at the Tour but I’d love to see him win Roubaix. After Omloop I commented that though Jumbo Visma were strong if it came down to a mano a mano race between the big 3 does it matter who your team mates are. I think I’ve been proved right, even if I say so myself.

  10. Aside from the obvious genius at work and incredible race there were a couple of other things on my mind yesterday post race;

    1 Post cyclo cross worlds WVA commented he was surprised/confused by MVDPs positioning for the sprint and said similar yesterday for MVDPs attack. LJ’s tactics as a whole are far better now than a few years ago but I still think WVA is easily out thought by MVDP (even when he doesn’t have the legs like yesterday). MVDP’s success and palmares suggest he is the better rider in one day races (especially those that matter most) but I often think 50% of this is just down to simply outthinking WVA, possibly even playing on WVA’s kindness, as he rarely if ever refuses to ride with MVDP despite being regularly beaten by him.

    2 Pidcock yesterday made no sense to me? Did he or Ineos seriously think he’d climb with the big three off the back of Strade? I feel like it’s been clear for many years between cyclocross and cobbled classics that Pidcock cannot go with these guys when they’re at their best (two being absent at Strade and MVDP clearly not being in form). The Ardennes are different but I’m bemused why their plan wasn’t to get him up the road where Nav his teammate was or risk him being dropped and forgotten when the big three lit it up. It’s easier said than done but from their pre race chat and in the race this looked like their plan and even as an armchair DS it seems like a bad one? Especially as Sheffield was the stronger rider in the end.

    3 Finally – my enjoyment of this race rested on Pog. I like Flanders but another win for MVDP would’ve been exciting yet standard. Noticing Jorgensen also doing well (even if he’s yet to be defined as a general classification rider) does anyone think rather than it being an anomaly for a Grand Tour rider to compete, whether moves could be made to encourage it further as for me at least it improves the race dramatically and effectively turning the final ten minutes of MSR into a full mega race. Seeing as Pog is only the third TDF winner to also win it seems unlikely but it would be make an already great race even better IMO. Risking injury, illness, racing to finish mid pack all make it unlikely just would be amazing if further encouraged.

    • Regarding MvdP v WVA I agree that Van der Poel is the better one day rider. He has an incredible explosion of power for 10-20 seconds and a very good sprint. He also seems able to ride ‘in the red’ for a long time (5 minute or so), and keep dipping in and out of that way over threshold zone. Van Aert is less explosive, while still being more explosive than just about everyone else, but probably has a higher threshold, hence being a superior time trialist and better long climb climber. He’s a much better stage racer than MvdP but in a way that is largely pointless, beyond winning multiple stages at the Tour and the green jersey, because he is too big to ever win one.
      The second point in this that I got thinking about during my drive to work this morning is whether Van Aert’s ability as a time trialist and climber and perhaps his Jumbo Visma induced focus on these disciplines to make him a better gregario di lusso has compromised him as a one day rider. Van der Poel hasn’t compromised anything in this regard. He rides on a team that is largely all about him and doesn’t really have a team mate to think about beyond occasionally leading out Philipsen as training. He rides Grand Tours to win a stage, get a day in a jersey and then effectively sign out. It may be that his physical characteristics would’ve always given an edge in one day racing but maybe his focus and lack of anything else to think about has helped him too.

    • I’ve read elsewhere that Pidcock had a fuelling issue, so that may explain some of it. Another one of these guys who are so good so young, that we expect them to have all the experience to go with it – but they don’t yet. But I also don’t think it would have made a huge difference to the race yesterday. If I had to take a position I’d say he’s more suited to the Ardennes anyway. But how to beat Remco?

      • Oh sorry.

        I don’t for a second think Pidcock should or would have won – and I am likewise in awe of his success at a young age. I really like him and want him to win more but don’t expect or demand it.

        I was just confused yesterday because with or without a fuelling mistake the tactics made little sense – he was never going to follow the big three and trying just seemed daft.

        Not sure Remco with be in the Ardennes if he’s going to the Giro? Gives Pidcock a great chance even if I still wouldn’t put him as the overwhelming favourite should the big3 be absent.

        Pidcock is in a strange position because despite his youth the writing seems on the wall currently – he can’t follow the best uphill on cobbles so likely won’t win more than the lesser Flanders races or nab a single Flanders – he is also likely too small for Roubaix – he is good for the Ardennes but possibly will still be in the mix with the best rather than key favourite as the big3 are – and he’s not shown whether he can cope in one week races or Grand Tours as yet plus happens to have the bad luck of being in the Pogacar era…

        It leaves you wondering that despite his incredible talent he’s most likely in the Kwiatowski mould of being an exceptional rider who isn’t the best at any discipline so will end up nabbing what races he can rather than dominate any discipline. Personally I think it’s very unlikely Pidcock will take Ineos back the top of cycling in any form unless 3specific riders suddenly disappear.

        • Evenepoel is riding Liège, it’s the race he’s longed dreamed about and on his training roads but his one day race goal this year is Lombardia as well.

          Pidcock feels like an impossible rider to label, we just don’t know what kind of rider he can be, or at least I don’t. He’s got plenty of range seems suited the Ronde and the Ardennes and if he’s good in the later, how far can he go in one-week stage races, this week’s Itzulia/Basque Country could suit and if then, can he stretch to the high mountains? Plus he rides MTB. He doesn’t have to become a certain type of rider either, it’s just hard to know which races he can win and especially where his competitive advantage is compared to rivals.

          • Yes this is exactly what I meant but better written.

            I can’t quite see where he has a competitive advantage currently so can see him winning the odd big race but not having the exact skills necessary to dominate any particular discipline despite being an incredible all round rider – maybe Kwiato is an unfair comparison but I rated him extremely highly and feel like his Palmares is still impressive even if he was a victim of his own versatility.

          • I’m not sure I’d be too keen to do Liege if I was Remco, or Lefevre. He hasn’t got much to gain bar a possible Pogacar shaped hole in his ego.

          • Richard S – who not take on L-B-L? Don’t the best want to take on the best to see who is best on the day? Seems like Pogacar revels in this – what looks like joy on his face during the race is part of what makes him entertaining to watch IMHO. “Racing not to lose” and the look of relief rather than joy after a win is too often the case these daze. I fear WVA is the latest victim but would LOVE to be proven wrong this Sunday.

          • What I’m saying is that if I was Remco Evenepoel I’d be wary of turning up to Liege as reigning champion and World Champion and then being made to look like neither by Pogacar. I’m not a top level sportsman though. He is and I’m sure he’ll be there.

          • “Pidcock feels like an impossible rider to label, we just don’t know what kind of rider he can be, or at least I don’t.”
            And WHY do we need to label (or to my mind pigeon-hole) these guys? IMHO the lack of label is what makes guys like Pogacar (and to a lesser extent Pidcock) fun to watch. What could be better than a guy who, every time he pins on a number, could actually WIN the race? I for one don’t want another generation of one-trick pony types who can win GT’s and nothing much else.

          • Larry, some people do race previews in their spare time. He’s confounding, it’s hard to know what he’s capable of, everything… or will he find each niche is occupied by someone just that bit better? His ability seems like a blank canvas, able to win the Strade Bianche but why not the Vuelta? We’ll see.

        • “Personally I think it’s very unlikely Pidcock will take Ineos back the top of cycling in any form unless 3specific riders suddenly disappear.”

          Remember that Pidcock is a full five years younger than two of those three. Two-four years from now, when Pidcock is at his physical peak, will WvA and MvdP still be world beaters? I still hold to my opinion that we’ve already seen the absolute peaks of those two riders, and in a few years ago I expect they won’t be standing between Pidcock and the top step of many podiums. I do expect Remco and Pog to still be there, but there are a lot of big races, and those two can’t do all of them.

  11. Extraterrestrial performance from Pogacar.I mean,how often did we witness MVDP, at the top of his game (and yesterday he surely was) getting dropped on these power climbs…It would have taken an Vandenbroucke on Luik Bastenaken form to hang on to the PogMissile 😏

    • Likewise just catching up having missed the race live (I was racing…😵)
      I have to say I found Pogacar’s performance apparently brilliant, yet in fact deeply, deeply troubling.
      The Dutch may cause a snigger with the label ‘overwinning’ but that’s just a cuddly and non-actionable form of words.

      • So you just leave: “I have to say I found Pogacar’s performance apparently brilliant, yet in fact deeply, deeply troubling.” hanging out there for readers to wonder why? Your point is?

      • “The Dutch may cause a snigger with the label ‘overwinning’ but that’s just a cuddly and non-actionable form of words.”

        I have no clue what a ‘cuddly and non-actionable form of words’ is, can you enlighten me? The regular Dutch word for victory is ‘overwinning’. The ‘over’ is part of that word because you can only win a contest if you beat others. You can win the lottery but that isn’t an ‘overwinning’ . In English you would also say that you have a victory ‘over’ your opponent, no? I would say that the snigger is not caused by the Dutch, but by those who read non-existent meanings into things they do not understand.

  12. Should MDVP have waited for Pedersen to try to bring back Pog? Probably wouldn’t have made a difference but maybe a slightly better chance?

  13. I was out all day, so I watched a recording of the whole thing as live later on, drinking far too much good wine. Best Ronde ever for me. Next year I’m wielding a corkscrew at noon. Pogacar was brilliant, a deserved (over)winner, but I’m even more amazed by Lotte Kopecky, who must be suffering so much that the pain of cycling is barely noticeable.

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