Another exceptional edition of the Tour of Flanders is behind us. A race of elimination and an exercise in toughness is how I would describe the 2022 edition of Belgium’s most iconic race. Of course, said process of elimination was started ad finished by Tadej Pogacar. With 55km to the finish line, on the second ascent of the Oude Kwaremont, the Tour champion launched an incredible attack that blew the peloton to pieces. 10km later, on the Koppenberg, where slopes reach 22%, Pogacar’s acceleration dumped everybody but pre-race favorite Mathieu Van Der Poel and, later, Valentin Madouas. The Frenchman’s superb classics’ season continues, as we had already covered here.
The day’s deciding move was decided and, unsurprisingly included Pogacar and Van Der Poel. During the final 40km the duo left whoever still managed to hold on behind, seemingly on their way to a two-man sprint for the victory. And this is where got even more interesting.
I will preface my comments by saying that I profoundly despise the notion that Pogacar did something wrong. I think this is 100% a “hindsight is 20/20” situation, and all cycling fans should have some empathy for the Slovenian rider’s situation. Comments in the vein of “Pogacar shouldn’t have played games with Van Der Poel” are useless, in my opinion, and reveal a shocking lack of empathy and ability to read a race. What should Pogacar have done against a much better sprinter? Pull in front of Van Der Poel to prevent Van Baarle and Madouas from catching up which would virtually guarantee the Dutchman’s victory?
I read some people saying that he should have at least guaranteed 2nd place. This is what makes me laugh the most. Who in their right mind thinks that a rider of the caliber of Tadej Pogacar, with all that he has already won and will win in the future, is interested in a 2nd place in the Tour of Flanders? Would anybody think differently of him had he been 2nd instead of 4th? Respect him more as a rider? I’d love to interview somebody who would; It’d be interesting to talk to somebody that “special”.
The bottom line is that Pogacar did exactly the same thing Kasper Asgreen did last year. He maximized his chances of victory. The price to pay was his 2nd place. In my opinion, this was 100% the correct tradeoff. His performance was sensational regardless of the final result. 2nd or 4th doesn’t make a difference, in my mind. 1st would, and that’s what he gunned for. Van Der Poel’s acceleration seemed too strong for Pogacar to be able to overtake him, anyway.
With that being said, let’s get into the five biggest takeaways of another edition of the Ronde van Vlaanderen.
Quick Step Alphavinyl
2022 isn’t Quick Step’s year. At least on the cobbles. I’m sure Remco Evenepoel and the world champion Julien Alaphilippe will perform better than their cobbles’ specialists. I don’t like being overly harsh on anybody that has the toughness and courage to take part in such a brutal sport. In fact, a mechanical problem affected Kasper Asgreen’s race ending his chances to repeat. Injury and illness have plagued the whole team throughout the beginning of 2022 which makes it even more difficult to be overly critical of Quick Step’s performances. Turns out last year’s Paris Roubaix was a premonition for the bad luck that would plague the team in 2022.
With that being said, the Belgian team must certainly look to improve its roster for the cobbles for 2023. As talented as Zdenek Stybar, Yves Lampaert, and Florian Senechal are, undoubtedly, they aren’t the kind of rider you bank your classics’ season on. Stybar and Lampaert never became truly elite classics’ riders and Senechal is in a similar limbo in that he is a jack of all trades but a master of none. Filippo Pozzato parlayed this skill into a monument victory. Seems unlikely that the Frenchman will do the same, but, in truth, he still has plenty of time to do so.
With Kasper Asgreen also needing to show the consistency necessary to repeat his fantastic 2021, Quick Step probably needs to add another rider to tackle the cobbles in 2023.
It was never supposed to be like this. Christophe Laporte and Tiesj Benoot honored their shirts, in my opinion, with a 9th and 13th in this Tour of Flanders. I expected more from Benoot especially after his performance in the Dwars and frankly didn’t expect that much from Laporte. It’s impossible for a team not to miss a rider of the caliber of Wout Van Aert. He not only creates for himself but, as was the case in the E3 and in the Paris Nice (on multiple occasions), but also opens up the race for his teammates. This Sunday, without Van Aert, Jumbo Visma came down to earth. Something that has been rare in 2022.
Valentin Madouas (Groupama FDJ) & Dylan Van Baarle (Ineos Grenadiers)
I had already mentioned the French rider on a previous post and praised his great season so far. Still, I didn’t expect a 3rd in the Ronde for the young Frenchman. Let’s not forget that this is a rider that finished the Giro in 13th place three years ago. His performances on the cobbles this season have been surprising and have surely gotten Madouas’ name written down on plenty of directeur sportifs notebooks. Fortunately for Groupama-FDJ, they have him under contract until the end of the 2024 season.
Dylan Van Baarle also deserves mention for a spectacular (and also surprising) 2nd place. I am less enthused about the Dutchman than about Madouas, to be honest. Van Baarle’s results seem to come in spurts, without consistency. As a result, we never know what to expect from him. Furthermore, at 29 years of age, inside of a team like Ineos, his growth potential is limited.
On the other hand, and to be fair to the Dutchman, three of the most important results of his career have come in the past year: the 2021 Dwars, and two silver medals in the world championship and here in the Ronde. While I doubt his ability to develop further than he already has, he might not have to in order to grab a legendary victory before retirement.
Tadej Pogacar (UAE Team Emirates)
I’ve already written a lot about the Slovenian’s race. He was the strongest on the cobbles (something I never thought I’d write) but not the strongest in the sprint. He played his race perfectly and showed that he learned a lot from his experience in the Dwars, on Wednesday. In the end, he wasn’t able to shake Mathieu Van Der Poel off of his wheel. You know who also couldn’t do that? Wout Van Aert in 2020. Pogacar’s dreams to win the Tour of Flanders went from crazy in 2021 to possible last Wednesday to “we’ll surely see him win it eventually” today. Not a bad outcome for the Tour champ.
Mathieu Van Der Poel (Alpecin Fenix)
I wrote in the preview of this race:
“I think Mathieu Van Der Poel is as much of a favorite to win the 2022 Tour of Flanders as there ever has been.”
That prophecy materialized, unsurprisingly. I know that that’s not a very bold prediction to make but I saw plenty of “without Van Aert the race is wide open” takes before the race. In my opinion, without Van Aert, the race was as closed as ever. Mathieu Van Der Poel consistency in this race is astonishing and without his biggest rival the outcome was all but certain.
In the end, it was certain. At 27 years of age the brilliant Dutchman won his second Tour of Flanders. One more and he equals the record number of wins shared by seven riders including recent legends Johan Museeuw, Fabian Cancellara, and Tom Boonen. I’m very confident that, by the end of Mathieu Van Der Poel’s career, he’ll have sole possession of the record of Tour of Flanders victories.