'Winning is not as easy as everyone thinks' — Mathieu van der Poel after second Tour of Flanders victory

Dutchman says he was calm heading into the sprint on Sunday

Mathieu van der Poel
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Mathieu van der Poel has raced the Tour of Flanders four times. Out of those four, he has won twice, come second once, and on the other occasion finished fourth. It's quite some record.

On Sunday, the Dutchman won the biggest bike race in Belgium for the second time in three years, mastering the sprint in the final kilometre to bring home victory.

Modestly, with a straight face, the Alpecin-Fenix rider told the media it "is a race that suits me pretty well".

This was just his eight race day this season after a long lay off with a back injury, but he would not be drawn on whether this was better than his first success at the race back in 2020.

"It's difficult to compare but I worked really hard to get back here and with the crowds it's really different. It's really different racing," he said.

He explained Flanders in a succinct way: "It's an honest race, so the strongest riders are always up in front. It's difficult to drop someone on the last climbs because the strongest riders are in front and everyone is tired at the end of the race. Today was the same story.

"Winning is always nice," he continued. "Also, my stage win at Coppi e Bartali was really nice, and it's a 2.1 race. Winning is not as easy as everyone thinks. The level is really high at the moment, and I'm really happy to win again today."

This year was different, though, in that the final sprint did not come down to two classics specialists, like 2020, with Van der Poel and Wout van Aert, or 2021, with Van der Poel and Kasper Asgreen

2022 saw the Dutchman go up against Tadej Pogačar in the final 18km, the reigning Tour de France champion, on his first time at the Ronde.

The pair looked a match for each other on most of the climbs of the day, especially the pairing of the Oude Kwaremont and the Paterberg.

"Especially last time on the Kwaremont and Paterberg, I was really happy to keep Pogačar's wheel because I was really on the limit there," Van der Poel said.

The Slovenian, however, was caught out by the onrushing Valentin Madouas and Dylan van Baarle in the final 100m, and was boxed out in the sprint, and finished fourth.

"He was really impressive today," Van der Poel said. "It was a bit of shame he was not on the podium today because he would have deserved it."

It was not a surprise to him that they were caught in the end, however, with his experience of the final sprint at the Ronde telling.

"You know when there's two guys going for a sprint they will look at each other," he said. "It's the third year I've been going into the final km with one other guy, it's always a poker game. It's normal, no one is going to go full gas in the last km with someone in their wheel."

Despite being bested by Asgreen in Oudenaarde last year, Van der Poel claimed that he was not under any extra pressure heading towards the finish line.

"I don't feel any stress or get nervous or anything, I just focus on my sprint," he said, "I was pretty calm and I just tried to launch my sprint at the right moment."

There was some evidence that the Dutchman was back to his best with victory at  Dwars door Vlaanderen on Wednesday, however Sunday's race was 90km longer and much more testing.

Despite Pogačar's best efforts at Flanders, pushing on the Kwaremont and the Paterberg, looking much more at home than he did at Dwars, he could not distance Van der Poel.

"I think the most important thing is to have the legs," Van der Poel said. "As I said before the start I knew he [Pogačar] was going to be there in front, he was already pretty strong at Dwars. He showed again today what a talent he was.

"Today, was power-wise my best Tour of Flanders. Pogačar was really impressive on the climbs, so I was happy to stay on his wheel."

Asked whether now he had battled at Flanders with a Tour de France champion, he could challenge overall at the Tour, Van der Poel laughed off the suggestion: "I'm not thinking about it no, it's not possible."

However, he will certainly be back to the Ronde, a race that seems to be his home.

"I'm just happy with my performances, and the Ronde is a race that suits me pretty well. The climbs are not too long, and it's always max power."

It certainly does suit him pretty well.

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