Five talking points from Dwars door Vlaanderen 2021

Talking points from the final warm-up before the Tour of Flanders

Van Baarle claims first ever Classic

Dylan van Baarle at Dwars Door Vlaanderen 2021 (Photo by Luc Claessen/Getty Images)
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Dylan van Baarle had quietly been riding himself into some very good form this spring, making the main selection at E3 Saxo Bank Classic and being one of the strongest at Ghent-Wevelgem, having earlier been up there in the climbs of Paris-Nice.

>>> Dylan van Baarle puts in impressive solo ride to win Dwars door Vlaanderen 2021

Today he bore the fruit of that form with victory at Dwars door Vlaanderen, his first-ever Classic victory following many high finishes over the years.

He did it in style too, attacking with over 50km still to ride, and soloing all the way to the finish.

In recent years Van Baarle has become better known for his understated but vital role in Ineos Grenadiers Grand Tour line-up, where he sets the pace on the lower slopes of climbs, but he is first and foremost a man for the cobbles, and has three top 10 finishes at the Tour of Flanders.

In this kind of form, a fourth top 10 finish on Sunday certainly looks on the cards — and he might even be a long shot for victory.

Van Vleuten opens account for Movistar

Annemiek van Vleuten wins the 2021 Dwars door Vlaanderen (Photo by Bas Czerwinski/Getty Images)
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Following in the footsteps of Marianne Vos, who claimed her first win for Jumbo-Visma at Ghent-Wevelgem on Sunday, Annemiek van Vleuten opened her account for Movistar in what was just her third appearance for the team.

Van Vleuten hasn’t been at her very best since crashing out of the Giro Rosa last year, but today she appeared to be reaching a similar level to that which saw her win four wins on the trot upon the return to racing last summer following lockdown.

She rode very well with Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM) to hold off the chasers, but what really impressed was her sprint. She launched it around the final corner from what seemed like an impossible distance of about 300 metres out, but somehow sustained the power all the way to the line. On several occasions, Niewiadoma attempted to go round her, but each time had to slip back into her slipstream,

It was an excellent victory, and a sign that she’s arriving in top form just in time for the Tour of Flanders.

What happened to Van der Poel?

Mathieu van der Poel at Dwars door Vlaanderen 2021 (Photo by Luc Claessen/Getty Images)
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Something was wrong with Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) today. The Dutchman didn’t have anything like the legs we’re used to seeing him ride with, and, from the moment his attack 50km from the finish failed to put his rivals under pressure, never looked like winning.

>>> Tim Merlier: 'Mathieu van der Poel came to us and said he was not good, I thought he was joking'

While it was unusual to see him race in a subdued manner, the first real surprise came on the Knoteberg. Not only did he fail to make the selection, he crested the climb several groups behind, and was visibly far more fatigued than we’ve ever seen him at this stage of Classic.

Although he was able eventually to catch back up to the group, and do some turns at the front in service of his team’s sprinter Tim Merlier, that effort also clearly took a lot out of him, and he almost stopped altogether as the finish approached.

Was Van der Poel suffering from some kind of illness? Was it a bad day? Or has his form suddenly deserted? Or could he even have been bluffing? For now we’re left unsure, and speculation as to what happened will make an intriguing storyline ahead of Sunday’s Tour of Flanders.

Niewiadoma’s winless streak continues

Kasia Niewiadoma at the 2021 Dwars door Vlaanderen (Photo by Bas Czerwinski/Getty Images)
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Although Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM) remains one of the strongest riders in the peloton, victories have been hard to come by lately.

In fact, it’s now been 21 months since her last victory. She’s picked up multiple podium and top five finishes (including second overall at the Giro last year), but that’s a very long baron run for a rider who already picked up 36 wins by the time she turned 25-years-old.

Today presented her with a great opportunity of ending that winless streak, as she broke clear with Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar) 36km from the finish. But, despite avoiding the fate of so many riders who have found themself with Van Vleuten by not being dropped, Niewiadoma was unable to match the power the Dutchwoman produced in her long-range sprint., and had to settle for second.

During this winless streak, she could be accused of doing too much too early in races, and lacking the savviness to preserve her strength to win more, but that certainly wasn’t the case today. Her current run must be frustrating, but in this form will surely come to an end soon — the upcoming Ardennes Classics look like a great opportunity.

Riders show contrasting form in final test before Flanders

Greg Van Avermaet at the 2021 Dwars door Vlaanderen (Photo by Luc Claessen/Getty Images)
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With the Tour of Flanders coming up on Sunday, Dwars door Vlaanderen provided one final chance for the cobbled specialists to prepare themselves for the big one.

There were encouraging signs for Greg Van Avermaet (Ag2r Citroën), who looked the strongest in the chasing group behind Van Baarle, and might be in contention to at last win the Ronde having come so close to no avail in the past.

Jasper Stuyven (Trek-Segafredo) was also in the chasing group, and seems to be carrying the form that saw him win Milan-San Remo, and Christophe Laporte (Cofidis) still had the legs to attack for a second-place finish after that group was finished, suggesting he’ll one to watch on Sunday.

Alexis Ryan (Canyon-SRAM) and Vittoria Guazzini (Valcar-Travel&Service) both claimed their best result of the spring by leading the sprint for third and fourth place in the women’s race, in a chasing group that also included a strong-looking Grace Brown (BikeExchange).

Deceuninck-Quick-Step in the men’s race and Trek-Segafredo in the women’s race might have missed out on the decisive move this time, but both still had strength in numbers, and look well set for Sunday.