Flanders Race Wrap: How Tadej Pogačar Schooled the Cobbled Golden Boys
De Ronde Breakdown
Key Takeaways from the Tour of Flanders: Spencer Martin breaks-down the key moments and takeaways from one of the most exciting one-day races in recent cycling history and looks at how Tadej Pogačar stamped his authority on De Ronde.
Breathtaking Racing Over The Climbs And Cobbles! | Ronde Van Vlaanderen 2023 Highlights – Men by GCN Racing
With incredible strength and poise, Tadej Pogačar won the 2023 Tour of Flanders (Ronde van Vlaanderen) in what turned out to be one of the best races in recent pro cycling history. The 24-year-old Slovenian both neutralized a dangerous escape group and dropped the world’s best Classic riders in Wout van Aert and Mathieu van der Poel over two absurdly aggressive ascents of the iconic Oude Kwaremont climb, before rolling into Oudenaarde for a solo victory ahead of Van der Poel and Mads Pedersen.
De Ronde went to an impressive Tadej Pogačar
To expand on my initial Flanders thoughts from Monday after the race, I’ve broken down the key moments, and takeaways, from the race below:
Flanders Top Ten:
1) Tadej Pogačar +0
2) Mathieu van der Poel +16
3) Mads Pedersen +1’12
4) Wout van Aert +1’12
5) Neilson Powless +1’12
6) Stefan Küng +1’12
7) Kasper Asgreen +1’12
8) Fred Wright +1’12
9) Matteo Jorgenson +1’19
10) Matteo Trentin +2’49
The break of the day
Flanders Race Notebook
236km-to-go: Bahrain splits the peloton in the crosswinds extremely early in the race. Mathieu van der Poel, who has been sitting at the back, is caught out in a group behind.
212km: After Van der Poel’s Alpecin team puts in a huge amount of work, he gets back into the front peloton. The pace is so high that an early breakaway has still not gotten away.
122km: Team DSM and Ineos mass at the front on a steep cobbled climb, and slow the pace to a crawl before accelerating as a group and using the rubberband effect to split the peloton. This somewhat idiotic move (which we also saw Trek employ at Dwars) isn’t successful in creating a DSM team breakaway at the front (of course), but it does catch out Van der Poel, who is once again forced to burn more teammates to chase.
100km: A powerful group, led by Matteo Trentin and including Mads Pedersen, gets clear after Kasper Asgreen accelerates on the Molenberg climb. Pogačar, at the front of the peloton behind, lets his teammate Trentin ride clear while he is playing gatekeeper at the front and watching to make sure Van Aert and Van der Poel (who was originally in this move before sitting up) don’t jump across.
99km-79km: This move quickly builds a gap to the peloton behind due to having strong riders and the fact that outside of Alpecin, nearly every top team has a rider in it, meaning they refuse to contribute to the chase. The gap eventually gets out to three minutes, and it starts to look more and more difficult for the three favorites to peg this back, especially if UAE and Jumbo decline to work.
55km: Heading into the penultimate ascent of the Kwaremont, the gap to the front has fallen to 2’12 due to the positioning battle’s high pace at the base of the climb. Pogačar’s UAE team win this battle and mass at the front and set an extremely high tempo in advance of a looming attack.
55km cont. When Pogačar goes on the Kwaremont, both Van Aert and Van der Poel are caught out of position, despite the fact that UAE has telegraphed this move over the last few kms. This poor positioning means Van Aert/Van der Poel aren’t on Pogačar’s wheel when he lifts the pace and don’t stand a chance of staying with him on the tough climb.
48km: Pogačar gets up and over the following Paterberg climb alone, and his nuclear move trims the lead to the front group down from three minutes to 95 seconds. Strangely, Jumbo has Christophe Laporte attack from the Van Aert/Van der Poel/Pidcock chase group to bridge up to, and work with Pogačar, instead of simply letting Pogačar dangle out on the flat terrain leading into the Koppenberg (even if he was planning to sit up and wait eventually) and saving Laporte’s legs until as late in the race as possible.
44km: Pogačar/Laporte is reeled in by the chase group before the Koppenberg, but easily splits this group on the steep climb. Meanwhile, Van Aert and Van der Poel, both of who appear to be struggling in the wake, are the only riders capable of holding the wheel.
28km: Up front, Mads Pedersen attacks and heads off alone to the finish. A few seconds behind, Van der Poel, shortly after being forced to chase back after a dropped chain, attacks and drops Van Aert on the Kruisberg. This move looks impressive but is easily marked by Pogačar. Combined with his multiple chases to get back into the front group, Van der Poel has now expended a lot of energy before the hardest part of the race, which suits Pogačar.
21km-18km: UAE’s strategic plan comes into focus when Pogačar/Van der Poel connects with the lead group before the final pass of the Kwaremont. This provides Pogačar with another leadout from a teammate heading into the section of the race where he can make a difference. When they hit the climb, just like the ascent prior, Pogačar lifts the pace at the base and immediately starts to gap the others.
17km: Pogačar closes Pedersen’s 35-second gap on the climb and easily overtakes the former World Champion towards the top, while Van der Poel struggles behind after being dropped.
13km: Pogačar gets up and over the final climb, the Paterberg, alone. Van der Poel is still visible, but the race is all but over when we consider that riders rarely ever nail back 10+ second gaps after the Paterberg.
12km-8km: Pogačar, the stronger rider on the day and historically better time trialist looks incredibly powerful on the flat, head-wind ride to the finish, and even extends his lead out to 24 seconds.
Finish: Pogačar rolls over the line for an impressive, even somewhat mindblowing, solo victory, while Van der Poel comes over 16 seconds later for 2nd.
Peloton Finish: Over a minute later, Mads Pedersen finishes off a strong ride when he outsprints Wout van Aert for 3rd place.
The first three takeaways are my initial post-race thoughts sent to premium subscribers on Sunday after the race. Click through on each point to see the full breakdown.
- 1) The Oude Kwaremont was key to Tadej Pogačar’s pre-race strategy, and he won due to sticking to this plan even after things went sideways
- 2) After this win, no one other than Pogačar could reasonably be considered the best rider in the sport
- 3) The Cobbled Golden Boys Mathieu van der Poel and Wout van Aert were just schooled by an outsider in their own backyard
Pogačar had to go all-out
4) Tadej Pogačar had to go all-out on the second pass of the Kwaremont, even if it looked risky, to avoid a repeat of 2022
- It may have looked overly aggressive when instead of having his UAE team mount a steady and organized chase to bring back the dangerous lead group, Pogačar set up a thermonuclear attack on the second pass of the Kwaremont and then continued on solo on the flat run to the Koppenberg.
- However, this move was likely the right call since it accomplished the following:
- 1) It significantly closed the gap between him and the race lead
- 66km: 3’00
- 55km: 2’11 (Kwaremont attack)
- 48km: 1’35
- 30km: 42-seconds
- 18km: 35-seconds (Kwaremont attack)
- 17km: Pogačar is at the front of the race
- 2) It broke up the dead-weight peloton
- 3) It forced both Van Aert and Van der Poel to go all-out and kept them from sitting on and getting a free ride from either his or his UAE Team’s pacemaking.
- 4) Most importantly, it added to Van der Poel and Van Aert’s cumulative fatigue and set them up to be dropped by Pogačar later in the race.
- This move ended up being key, as Pogačar knew if he rode conservatively at this point in the race, as he did in 2022, he risked being beaten again via a sprint.
Van der Poel wasted energy
5) Mathieu van der Poel burned far too many unnecessary matches
- The pre-race favorite likely never had a shot of matching Pogačar’s pace on the final duel ascents. However, the fact he was caught off the back on multiple occasions and had to burn both teammates and precious energy chasing back certainly didn’t increase his chances.
- Additionally, his decision to attack and drop Van Aert on the Kruisberg, right before the Kwaremont, where he knew Pogačar needed to attack in order to have a chance of winning, and shortly after expending a significant amount of energy chasing back on after a dropped chain, ended any chance of he had of matching Pogačar’s pace and then beating him in a sprint as he did in 2022.
Neilson Powless STUNS In Tour Of Flanders 2023 Debut by FloBikes
6) The young Americans continue to impress
- Two Americans finished inside the top ten for the first time at Flanders since 2010, with Neilson Powless (26) and Matteo Jorgenson (23) bagging 5th and 9th.
- While impressive on its face, it is even more shocking when we consider Powless and Jorgenson aren’t Cobbled specialists and both were riding this event for the first time in their careers.
- This fact is both great news for American cycling, and indicative of the continuing death of specialists in pro cycling.
DSM blocked the road
7) The day was a very mixed bag for team tactics
- Bad: DSM’s ‘block then attack’ move with 122km-to go
- By blocking the peloton on a steep climb before launching a coordinated full-team attack, it looked like DSM was executing a new-wave ‘Moneyball’ strategy. But, when we zoom out, what the team hoped to accomplish becomes less clear.
- Did they really think they could get the entire team off the front for a breakaway that could make it all the way to the finish? This isn’t realistic with an (angry) peloton behind you. Since they didn’t get away clean, they were left in a no better position than before the move.
- Ultimately, this maneuver helped Pogačar and Van Aert since it forced Van der Poel to expend energy. If they wanted to get riders into a dangerous move, they should have gotten a pair of riders into the Asgreen move on the Molenberg like EF.
- Bad: Bahrain splitting the race in early echelons didn’t seem fully thought through
- At first glance, Bahrain appeared extremely clever when they caught Van der Poel and Alpecin off-guard after splitting the peloton in the crosswinds with 236km to go. But, like DSM, this move only helped Pogačar since it forced Van der Poel to expend energy early. With so many riders caught behind, they were unlikely to get much help from other teams, and in reality, no single team has the horsepower to drive the pace from over 200kms all the way to the finish line.
- Good: Movistar & EF marking the elite escape group
- In contrast, EF and Movistar were able to net astounding results by eschewing these overly aggressive tactics and simply having their strongest riders (Powless and Jorgenson) mark the long-range moves from elite riders. Everyone knew they were coming since sitting and waiting to be dropped by the Big 3 was the only alternative. As long as Pogačar, Van der Poel, and Van Aert didn’t attempt to get into the moves themselves, they would be free to build up a cushion that could deliver them to a top 10, or in the case of Pedersen, podium result.
- By getting Matteo Trentin up the road as a satellite rider that could help Pogačar late in the race, and then using the rest of their team to position Pogačar perfectly for his attack with 55km to go, the team seamlessly executed a strategy that was their best chance of winning
- You can pick apart the team strategy of Jumbo and Alpecin, but in reality, it was always going to come down to a drag race up the Kwaremont and Paterberg between the big 3.
- The only quibble could be Alpecin being caught off the back multiple times and being forced to chase on early in the race. This energy could have been used later to hang onto Pogacar on the Kwaremont.
- Some might wonder what happened to the overpowering strength we have seen from Jumbo this spring. But, it is important to remember that at a race as hard as Flanders, their team strength matters less since when Pogačar really goes on terrain that suits him, Van Aert is the only Jumbo rider capable of holding his wheel. And while a strong team can keep you from having to be on the front, it can’t help you hold a rival’s wheel.
UAE had Trentin up front
Good: UAE putting the rest of the peloton into a ‘Pogačar vise’
The ‘Big Three’ in action
8) The rise of the Big 3 means the rest of the contenders have to attack early in order to have a chance at victory
- In regard to the elite escape group that went with 100km-to-go, it is almost inconceivable that riders like Mads Pedersen (a former world champion) and Kasper Asgreen (a former winner of this race) now have to bet on getting into long-range moves, something traditionally done by outsiders, to even have a chance at a top result.
- But, with three riders being so much stronger than the rest, this is the only feasible option for these riders to get over the final two climbs with the leaders.
- For example, Mads Pedersen gave himself a chance to win by setting his ego aside and getting ahead of Pogačar’s late move. While he walked away with a commendable third place, he could have just as easily won the race if his breakaway group had been able to build up an advantage of 20-30 more seconds, which would have allowed him to get over the Kwaremont, and onto the Paterberg, ahead of Pogačar.
Pedersen was close
# Spencer Martin is the author of the cycling-analysis newsletter Beyond the Peloton that breaks down the nuances of each race and answers big picture questions surrounding team and rider performance. Sign up now to get full access to all the available content and race breakdowns. #
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