Mathieu van der Poel on Sunday took the Tour of Flanders honors for the Dutch cross-code rider’s first win in one of cycling’s so-called “Monuments.”
The race was overshadowed by world champion Julian Alaphilippe’s heavy fall after colliding with a motorcycle.
Van der Poel had slipped away from the peloton with his great Belgian rival Wout van Aert, who like him is a three-time cycle cross world champion, and Alaphilippe forming a three-man breakaway.
However, Alaphilippe crashed out of contention, leaving the duo to fight it out in a pulsating finish.
“The world champion was taken to the hospital where the X-rays showed fractures on his right hand,” a statement by French rider Alaphilippe’s Deceuninck-QuickStep team said. “Alaphilippe, who was making his last appearance of the season in Flanders, will be operated Monday morning.”
Van der Poel emerged the winner in Audenarde 34 years after his father Adrie’s name was added to the celebrated race’s roll of honor.
In the buildup to the start of the race in Antwerp, which was moved from its traditional slot in the cycling calender due to the COVID-19 pandemic, all the signs were that Van der Poel and Van Aert held the key.
When Alaphilippe broke away from the peloton 40km from the finish only Van der Poel went with him, Van Aert missing the move and as a result had to use up vital energy catching the two leaders on the cobblestones of Taaianberg.
That effort coming after a fall 100km out would surely have taken its toll in the thrilling wheel-to-wheel sprint for the line.
Van der Poel, the 25-year-old grandson of the late Raymond Poulidor — who sealed his place in the French public’s affections by coming second on the Tour de France three times, but never winning it — added Flanders to last year’s wins in the Amstel Gold classic and Tour of Britain.
For Alaphilippe, the crash capped a tumultuous month.
He won the Belgian semi-classic la Fleche Brabanconne for his first victory in the rainbow-colored jersey of the world champion.
That made up for his farcical finish at Liege-Bastigne-Liege a week earlier when he raised his arms in celebration too soon and was embarrassingly pipped to the line after he stopped pedaling.
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