Mathieu van der Poel wins E3.

Van der Poel solos to his first E3 win as Van Aert hits the deck

Van Aert mounts a spirited chase after crashing but Van der Poel wins the 'mini' Flanders by over a minute.

Dane Cash
by Dane Cash 22.03.2024 More from Dane +

As of Friday morning, the E3 Saxo Classic was part of an ever-shortening list of major Spring Classics that Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Deceuninck) had yet to win, but that changed after 207.6 km of racing on a cold and wet day in Flanders.

The reigning world road champ put in a massive surge on the Paterberg with over 40 km still to go, just as rival Wout van Aert (Visma-Lease a Bike) crashed, and there would be no catching Van der Poel after that.

Van Aert did put up an admirable chase effort, remounting, navigating through what remained of the peloton, and then attempting to bridge to Van der Poel, but he was unable to make the catch. He brought the gap down to under 20 seconds at one point before fading and ultimately getting caught by Jasper Stuyven (Lidl-Trek). Van der Poel stayed clear to win in Harelbeke by over a minute and a half. Van Aert settled for third behind Stuyven.

The two Classics superstars have taken drastically different paths to Friday’s convergence, which sets off a string of head-to-heads that will culminate at Paris-Roubaix. Van der Poel opened his season late, racing the first time on the road at Milan-San Remo, and Van Aert just returned from a late altitude camp.

Van der Poel’s dominant showing in just his second road race of the season bodes well for his Monumental objectives to come. With the Tour of Flanders only nine days away, Van der Poel was on flying form in a race that took him over many of the very same climbs that will feature in the Flanders route.

“I didn’t expect it. I thought I needed a few more races maybe to get to this level,” Van der Poel said afterward. “I hope I get recovered from this one for Sunday [for Gent-Wevelgem] because I have to say I was pretty cooked in the end.”

For Van Aert and Visma-Lease a Bike, Friday’s grade might best be classified as an “incomplete.” Van Aert’s crash on the Paterberg made it practically impossible to gauge how well he might be able to match Van der Poel’s form at the critical moment, and then there was some indecision among his team for at least a few crucial moments while Van der Poel soloed clear. That said, Van Aert did manage to put up a spirited pursuit of Van der Poel, even if it ultimately failed.

In addition to laying down a marker for the upcoming Tour of Flanders, of course, Van der Poel also added a major victory to his palmares on Friday. With E3 in the bag, Van der Poel is now just a Gent-Wevelgem victory away from having won every WorldTour one-day from Strade Bianche through the Amstel Gold Race at least once in his career.

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