Wout van Aert sprints to win from an elite trio at brutal edition of E3 Saxo Classic

Mathieu van der Poel and Tadej Pogačar outpowered in finalé by Belgian

Wout van Aert wins E3
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Wout van Aert sprinted to victory at the E3 Saxo Bank Classic on Friday, winning from an elite group, beating Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) and Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Deceuninck) in the process.

It was a brutal edition, with the leading trio containing the three biggest names going clear of everyone else with about 40km to go. Van der Poel and the Alpecin-Deceuninck team were active from the start, with Pogačar also trying to attack his rivals repeatedly inside the final 4km.

Van Aert hung onto the wheels of Van der Poel and Pogačar at times, particularly on the Paterberg, but it worked in the end as he managed to keep on for a sprint that he always looked like winning.

As a result, he became the first rider since Fabian Cancellara in 2010/2011 to win E3 back to back, and kept up Jumbo-Visma's 100% record in the cobbled Classics so far this year, after victory at both Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Bruxelles-Kuurne.

There will be many disappointed teams at the end of the day, as it was so far out from the finish that the race was over for so many. Soudal Quick-Step, once the kings of cobbled races, were once again absent from the front of the race. Jumbo-Visma look like they have inherited that crown, with Alpecin-Deceuninck also putting in a solid shift on the roads of Flanders.

Fourth place came in an unusual colour, with Movistar's Matteo Jorgenson taking fourth. It was the highest ever finish by an American at the Belgian race.

How it happened

The E3 Saxo Classic is the opening to the biggest week of all in Flanders, the precursor to Gent-Wevelgem and Dwars door Vlaanderen before the one that matters most, the Tour of Flanders

There were six former winners in the peloton that left Harelbeke: Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma), Kasper Asgreen (Soudal Quick-Step), Zdenêk Stybar (Jayco AlUla), Greg van Avermaet (AG2R Citroën), Michał Kwiatkowski (Ineos Grenadiers) and Peter Sagan (TotalEnergies). All eyes, however, were on Van Aert, Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Deceuninck) and Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates).

173 riders out of the scheduled 175 took to the start, with Hugo Houle (Israel-Premier Tech) and Cees Bol (Astana Qazaqstan) failing to roll out of Harelbeke with the rest.

With 171km to go, a break of five riders went clear, of five different nationalities. Thomas Bonnet (TotalEnergies), Mathias Norsgaard (Movistar), Kelland O’Brien (Jayco AlUla), Mathis Le Berre (Arkéa-Samsic) and Martin Urianstad (Uno-X) made up the group.

The early climbs failed to make too much of an impact on the peloton, as the biggest names decided to keep their powder dry for the famous hills that would come later, like the Oude Kwaremont and the Paterberg.

The break was never allowed too much of a free reign, with the time gap barely creeping above two minutes.

A flat tyre for Van der Poel was as much danger as came to the leaders in the bunch early on, but repeated crashes in the bunch would have raised anxiety levels.

With 87km to go, Van der Poel’s Alpecin-Deceuninck teammate Dries De Bondt attacked off the front of the bunch into the Kortekeer, surely a stalking horse for whatever his Dutch ally would do later. He soon joined the break.

On the Taaienberg, Julian Alaphilippe (Soudal Quick-Step) went off the front, followed by Van der Poel, but this soon came to nothing. Then, the Dutchman attacked again, followed by Van Aert, but this move was shut down.

While Van der Poel was pushing hard, Van Aert was following, in the knowledge that he had numbers behind.

However, the attacks from early on showed the commitment that both Van der Poel and Van Aert showed to being at the front of this race. With 77km to go, the break was mopped up as the action got going in the group of leaders.

Another attack, by Nathan van Hooydonck (Jumbo-Visma), Matej Mohorič and Søren Kragh Andersen (Alpecin-Deceuninck) stuck, into the Eikenberg. By this stage there were riders all over the road, with Kasper Asgreen (Soudal Quick-Step) trying something, while others went out the back.

A crash at the back of group two on the Stationberg saw Dylan van Baarle (Jumbo-Visma), Florian Sénéchal (Soudal Quick-Step) and Jhonatan Narváez (Ineos Grenadiers) all taken out of contention, while at the front, the decisive move of the day happened.

Van der Poel and Van Aert flew off the front, to be followed by Pogačar. They soon joined the three leaders that were still at the front, meaning Alpecin and Jumbo both had two riders in the leading group.

This would be the last many of the riders in the bunch saw of the front of the race.

With about 40km to go, Pogačar attacked on the Oude Kwaremont, followed by Van er Poel, which saw Kragh Andersen, Van Hooydonck and Mohorič dropped. Van Aert was briefly hanging off the back in this phase, but clung onto the leading two, meaning it would be a powerful trio into the final.

Meanwhile, behind, a group of four chased the trio: Mohorič, Stefan Küng (Groupama-FDJ), Matteo Jorgenson (Movistar) and Ivan García Cortina (Movistar) all attempted to haul the group up the road back in. The time gap was reduced to about 40 seconds with 4km to go, but it would not be enough.

Just before 3km to go, Pogačar tried a seated attack round a corner, but could not dispose of his two big rivals. He did the same again just before the flamme rouge, leaving a little gap to Van Aert and Van der Poel before going again.

Into the final 500m, Pogačar opened up the sprint before Van Aert and Van der Poel lit things up, and Van Aert accelerated around his rivals to cross the line first.

Behind, Jorgenson flew off the front of the second group on the road to take fourth.

Results: E3 Saxo Classic 2023 (204.1km)

1. Wout van Aert (Bel) Jumbo-Visma, in 4-44-59
2. Mathieu van der Poel (Ned) Alpecin-Deceuninck
3. Tadej Pogačar (Slo) UAE Team Emirates, both at same time
4. Matteo Jorgenson (USA) Movistar, at 33s
5. Iván García Cortina (Esp) Movistar, at 44s
6. Stefan Küng (Sui) Groupama-FDJ, at 56s
7. Matej Mohorič (Slo) Bahrain-Victorious, at same time
8. Valentin Madouas (Fra) Groupama-FDJ, at 1-25
9. Søren Kragh Andersen (Den) Alpecin-Deceuninck, at 1-31
10. Filippo Ganna (Ita) Ineos Grenadiers, at same time

Thank you for reading 20 articles this month* Join now for unlimited access

Enjoy your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1

*Read 5 free articles per month without a subscription

Join now for unlimited access

Try first month for just £1 / $1 / €1