Pogacar emulates Merckx with classic Tour of Flanders playbook
Tadej Pogacar won the Tour of Flanders on Sunday with a searing solo attack in the final 20km on the 274km one-day race to equal the great Eddy Merckx's achievement almost half a century ago
The Slovenian two-time Tour de France winner now has four Monuments (ultra-long one-day races) to his name after finishing 17sec ahead of last year's winner Mathieu van der Poel.
The 24-year-old is attempting the rare crossover of Grand Tour riders to try and win the epic one-day races known as Monuments.
Pogacar's soaring triumph makes him the first man since Merckx to win both the Tour de France and the Tour of Flanders (1969, 1975).
Pogacar has twice won the Tour of Lombardy, and has won one Liege-Bastogne-Liege, making this his fourth.
"It's a day I will never forget," said Pogacar, who was handed a large portion of local speciality chips at the finish line.
"I almost cracked on the last climb but it was the only way to go," he said, referring to his great rival Van der Poel being a stronger sprinter in a two-up finish.
When asked about equalling the Merckx feat, Pogacar didn't hold back, describing it as the biggest one-day race in the world.
"That is an exploit in itself," he agreed. "My season is already a success because of it and even if I don't win the Tour de France this year I could still retire after this win and be super proud and happy."
Pogacar has two Monuments he needs to win to have collected all five.
"Milan-SanRemo looks like the hardest to go and get, and I might need to put on some weight to win (Paris) Roubaix," he said of the remaining two.
- 'Strong uphill' -
Van der Poel was at the heart of the frenetic opening period as the race rolled out of Bruges and this pace began to take its toll in the lush green Flemish plains on a cold day with low hanging grey skies.
But the Dutch one-day specialist never gave up, even producing a last surge over the final kilometre before exchanging smiles, hugs and congratulations with Pogacar.
The race had been billed as a battle of the big three, also including world ranked No.1 Wout van Aert.
"Mathieu and Tadej are strong uphill, but we can counter with the team we have," said the Belgian, who was brought back to the leaders by teammates twice before wilting on the last climb.
Van Aert finished with five other riders 1min 12sec behind the winner.
The race turned on a mass fall of around 40 riders when Bahrain Victorious man Filip Maciejuk hit a pothole while trying to get around the peloton on a verge of grass.
Van Aert picked up an injury and the culprit was thrown off the race.
"I’m really sorry for my mistake and causing the crash today," Maciejuk said.
"I hope all those involved are in good health and safe. This should not happen and was a big error in my judgement."
Around 750,000 people showed up along the route to cheer the peloton on with shuttle buses and extra trains laid on for what is seen by many as an unofficial world championship.
VIDEO: 2023 Tour of Flanders Highlights
2023 Ronde van Vlandeeren Top 10
1 POGACAR Tadej UAE Team Emirates 6:12:07
2 VAN DER POEL Mathieu Alpecin-Deceuninck 0:16
3 PEDERSEN Mads Trek - Segafredo 1:12
4 VAN AERT Wout Jumbo-Visma 1:12
5 POWLESS Neilson EF Education-EasyPost 1:12
6 KÜNG Stefan Groupama - FDJ 1:12
7 ASGREEN Kasper Soudal - Quick Step 1:12
8 WRIGHT Fred Bahrain - Victorious 1:12
9 JORGENSON Matteo Movistar Team 1:19
10 TRENTIN Matteo UAE Team Emirates 2:49