Wout van Aert, Tadej Pogačar and Mathieu van der Poel take different roads to Tour of Flanders
The big three have slightly different ideas on how to prepare for De Ronde on Sunday
Today, boygenius, the supergroup combining indie sensations Phoebe Bridgers, Lucy Dacus and Julien Baker releases its debut album. Anticipation is fevered for the work of art from the trio, which is sure to inspire strong emotions from fans across the world.
In two days, another supergroup will likely produce a work of art. Not a melancholic record, but an explosive Tour of Flanders on the roads, bergs and pavé of southern Belgium.
It seems inevitable that Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma), Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) and Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Deceuninck) will be the cream that rises to the top over the 273km of the Ronde on Sunday, as they did at the E3 Saxo Bank Classic last week. They are simply a cut above the rest.
None of the three were present at Dwars door Vlaanderen on Wednesday, which led Bahrain-Victorious' Fred Wright to remark before rolling out of Waregem: "The mortals are racing this one, I've got a good chance".
The eventual winner, Christophe Laporte, a Jumbo-Visma teammate of Van Aert's, made a similar remark in terms of his chances for the big one; essentially, even though he won a race in their absence, he is still far from the level of the big three.
Not since the days of Tom Boonen and Fabian Cancellara at their heights has there been such a clear gap between the favourites and the rest of the field, who are excellent bike riders in their own right.
The final selection at E3 was the perfect example of how the trio is superior, with the group the only riders able to stick together once they started putting in their own attacks. It is not far fetched to imagine this being the decisive move on Sunday, either.
The way the three have similar and differing qualities is fascinating: Pogačar the climber, the Grand Tour rider, using his excellent racing nous to still be there in the Classics, in just his second year at really trying; Van der Poel and Van Aert the two cyclo-cross powerhouses, with the former having more of a punch uphill, as seen at Strade Bianche and Milan-San Remo, and the latter being a better time trialist and sprinter.
Together, once they have a gap they are almost impossible to bring back. Their rivals are reduced to hoping that they spend too much time looking at each other to notice dangerous moves escaping up the road, but this seems to be discounting Van Aert's strong Jumbo-Visma team at least, and assuming some racing negligence on the group's part.
Despite the likelyhood that the three will come together at the pointy end of the Tour of Flanders, they have taken three different routes before heading to Bruges on Sunday.
Both Van Aert and Van der Poel came to the road season late after competing in the cyclo-cross Worlds, the former starting at Tirreno-Adriatico, where he was largely anonymous, and the latter at Strade Bianche, where he disappointed. However, it was part of a new strategy of having a more relaxed start to the year.
Pogačar, meanwhile, has 15 race days in his legs, having raced both the Ruta del Sol and Paris-Nice, both of which he won. Not having had a cyclo-cross season, the Slovenian could start on the road earlier, but has been close to his top form for longer - although, it seems like he is never off form.
Van Aert raced again last Sunday, at Gent-Wevelgem, where he looked a cut above the rest of the field in the absence of his two biggest rivals, effectively towing Laporte to the finish line, and gifting him the win.
The Belgian has stuck around in northern Europe for the week in between Gent-Wevelgem and Flanders, training on his home roads. He was present at a recon of the course with his Jumbo team on Thursday, so hasn't done a lot of travelling from Belgium.
His two big rivals, meanwhile, have travelled in the intervening days. Neither raced at Gent-Wevelgem, deciding to preserve their legs instead. Van der Poel headed to a training camp, alone in Spain, to put in some last minute work
"Its because Mathieu knows the roads in the meanwhile," an Alpecin spokesman said. "It is the same final as the previous years. And the weather has been bad in Belgium. So Mathieu preferred the Spanish weather and roads for a last training block towards the Ronde and Roubaix"
Pogačar headed home to Monaco, as evidenced by his Instagram stories this week, far from the grey skies and drizzle of Belgium. The Slovenian is due back in Belgium today, with a press conference scheduled in Flanders, so it was a short break back at home, but it might have been what he needed.
So the supergroup will come together in the medieval city of Bruges, the one which failed to impress Colin Farrell 15 years ago, and set off, two with a tan, one battered by the Belgian wind and rain.
273km to separate them, because it has to be between those three, right?
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Adam is Cycling Weekly’s senior news and feature writer – his greatest love is road racing but as long as he is cycling on tarmac, he's happy. Before joining Cycling Weekly he spent two years writing for Procycling, where he interviewed riders and wrote about racing, speaking to people as varied as Demi Vollering to Philippe Gilbert. Before cycling took over his professional life, he covered ecclesiastical matters at the world’s largest Anglican newspaper and politics at Business Insider. Don't ask how that is related to cycling.
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