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Van der Poel wins Tour of Flanders for third time

Mathieu van der Poel celebrateshis third Tour of Flanders victory (LAURIE DIEFFEMBACQ)
Mathieu van der Poel celebrateshis third Tour of Flanders victory (LAURIE DIEFFEMBACQ)

Mathieu van der Poel rode through the Belgian rain and into history on Sunday as he joined the elite group who have won the Tour of Flanders three times.

The 29-year-old Dutch rider finished just over a minute ahead of the chasing pack as he became the sixth rider in the 111-year history of the race to claim three victories.

Italian Luca Mozzato grabbed second, one minute and two seconds back, outsprinting Australian Michael Matthews to the line. But Matthews was then penalised for dangerous sprinting and German Nils Politt awarded third.

"Winning the Tour of Flanders with the world champion's rainbow jersey on your back is a dream come true," said Van der Poel.

"I've already had a successful season.

"It was one of the hardest races of my life. I was dead in the last few kilometres, but I closed my eyes and kept pressing on the pedals."

No one has won cycling's oldest 'monument' four times. The last man to complete a hat-trick was Swiss Fabian Cancellara in 2014. Van der Poel's previous triumphs were in 2020 and 2022.

His two most powerful one-day rivals were absent.

Wout Van Aert broke a collarbone and a rib in Around Flanders four days earlier, and defending Flanders champion, Tadej Pogacar, is skipping the spring classics as he targets a Giro d'Italia-Tour de France double.

In their absence Van der Poel, who won two of cycling's five super-long monuments and the road-race world title last season, started as overwhelming favourite and the number one target for his rivals.

He rose to the challenge.

Sunday's slog through the second and most sacred 'monument' took riders over 270.2 kilometres and up 18 nasty climbs, under grey Belgian skies and through persistent rain that made the cobbled sections slippery.

Van der Poel, of the Alpecin-Deceuninck team, spent most of the first 220 kilometres stalking breakaways.

Mads Pedersen, who edged Van der Poel in last week's Gent-Wevelgem, launched a long-range attack.

Van der Poel caught the Dane on the Oude Kwaremont climb with 55km kilometres to go and put in an acceleration that shattered the pack, leaving a reduced group at the front.

Ivan Garcia escaped, built a lead of 10 seconds, but slipped out of his pedals trying to find the power to climb the cobbled Kloppenberg.

Van der Poel passed the Spaniard, who was pushing his bike up the hill, and cut loose with 44 km to go.

American Matteo Jorgenson, winner of Around Flanders, briefly gave chase.

Van der Poel, a six time cyclo cross world champion at ease in miserable weather and on treacherous surfaces, gambolled away.

With 30km left, he led by 1 minute and 25 seconds from a seven-rider chasing group that had begun to argue among themselves.

The Dutch rider nursed that advantage to the line.

jk-pb/pi