Johan Museeuw: Van Aert in pole position but Pogačar has chance at Tour of Flanders

Three-time winner says Van der Poel and Asgreen also favourites for Sunday's race

Wout van Aert, Mathieu van der Poel and Tadej Pogačar at Milan-San Remo
Wout van Aert, Mathieu van der Poel and Tadej Pogačar at Milan-San Remo
(Image credit: Getty Images)

While Wout van Aert might be in "pole position" for the Tour of Flanders, Tadej Pogačar and Mathieu van der Poel both have a strong chance of winning, according to Johan Musueeuw.

Speaking to Cycling Weekly during a "busy and hectic" week, the three-time Ronde winner said that the winner could be a "big tour winner like Pogačar", something not seen since the days of Eddy Merckx.

"After the last races we have Wout van Aert in pole position," Museeuw said. "With almost the same pole position for Pogačar. Van Aert, is maybe not in a better condition, but has had a better preparation than the others. 

"Van der Poel has an engine, and looked good in the last race in Italy, so he's back again, but his preparation was not like Van Aert. Pogačar has a good preparation, and already he was already very strong this year. There is a chance that the winner this year could be a big tour winner like Pogačar."

Van Aert has won Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and the E3 Saxo Bank Classic so far this season, while Pogačar was a dominant winner of Strade Bianche and Tirreno-Adriatico.

When asked whether the Slovenian can win despite never having ridden Flanders before, Museeuw pointed to the example of Biniam Girmay, who on Sunday won Gent-Wevelgem at his first attempt.

"We saw the winner of Gent-Wevelgem, 21 years old and no experience and he won," he said. "On Friday [at E3] he was fifth. The young generation doesn't need experience or a lot of results. They are able to win. Pogačar is able to win, and Van Aert also. Van der Poel and [Kasper] Asgreen as well. There can be just one winner."

Another advantage in Van Aert's favour is the strength of his team; on Sunday his team-mate Christophe Laporte finished second, and it has been noticeable in one-day races this year how visible Jumbo-Visma has been throughout races.

"Van Aert has a strong team," Museeuw said. "So if he is in the final he will be difficult to stop him, but it will be difficult to stop the others too. The last climb of the Kwaremont, if they're all together, I can't say before who will win. Maybe they will arrive with three big talents for a sprint, that's a possibility. It's also a possibility that Van Aert or Pogačar will go. Or somebody else. The Tour of Flanders is unpredictable.

"Van Aert will have no stress before the start. Jumbo-Visma have already won a lot already and shown a lot. They can also lose it, like Laporte at Gent-Wevelgem. Last year, Van der Poel was the favourite and Asgreen won. It gives you a more relaxing time at the start, but every rider know it's not easy to win the Tour of Flanders, even Wout van Aert with a strong team.

Van der Poel has raced just six days this year, after  a long layoff with a back injury compounded at the Olympic Games mountain bike race in August 2021. However, he will return to action at Dwars door Vlaanderen on Wednesday, and looked good at Milan-San Remo and the Coppi e Bartali.

Museeuw said: "Van der Poel has a lot of quality. I think his condition is quite good. It is difficult now to say who will be the best, that will be set on Sunday."

The Belgian won his last Tour of Flanders in 1998, but believes that the race has not changed a lot in the years in between: "It's hard and stressful."

However, he continued: "The riders are more prepared now. In our generation you could not have done one race and then won Flanders, like Van der Poel. That's the new generation, with power metres and everything. 

"In my generation it would have been impossible for a rider like Pogačar to come to the Tour of Flanders and have a chance to win. There's more research now, they do more preparation. It's not necessary to know the race as well."

One team that has disappointed in the cobbled Classics so far has been Quick-Step, with less of their usual domination. Asgreen has looked good, but other than that they look thin on options.

"I can't say how Quick-Step will do it," Museeuw said. "They will have to open the race for sure because they are not favourites. That is different for them. It is the first time in a long time that they are not favourites, just Asgreen. Maybe they will do the race differently."

Museeuw stars in the new GCN+ documentary How to Win the Tour of Flanders, out on Tuesday for subscribers. In it, presenter Dan Lloyd traces the story and impact of the Tour of Flanders, with the help of past riders like Museeuw, and current pros like Oliver Naesen.

The race itself, and many others, can be watched live and on-demand through GCN+.

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