Wheels Roundup: Van der Poel Soloes to Flanders Win, Evenepoel Hits the Cement in Time Trial

By Siegfried Mortkowitz

Mathieu van der Poel did exactly what was expected in Sunday’s Tour of Flanders by soloing 45 km to another dominant Classics victory to take the third De Ronde victory of his career. He crossed the finish line 1:02 ahead of Luca Mozzato (Arkéa–B&B Hotels) and Michael Matthews (Jayco-AlUla) but Mathews was later relegated for deviating from his line to prevent Nils Politt (UAE Team Emirates) from passing him. As a result, Pollit moved onto the podium in his place.

But the talk was all about van der Poel who once again showed that he belongs to an elite group of dominant Classics riders, with Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) and Remco Evenepoel (Soudal–Quick Step), who all have the legs, lungs and panache to win with long-distance solo breakaways. However, their much-anticipated “summit meeting” at this month’s Liège-Bastogne-Liège may not take place. After the Tour of Flanders, van der Poel told Sporza, “Liège is not 100% certain but there is still a chance,” and noted that Pogačar and Evenepoel will “find a course [in the Liège] that is made for them. It will be difficult but I would like to try. I am realistic enough to know that I probably won’t be able to follow when they are at the top. But the race still has to be run, [and] you never know what can happen…”

If he doesn’t ride in the race on April 21, it will be because Flanders took a lot out of him and he has Paris-Roubaix and the Amstel Gold Race still to ride before Liège. “It was just survival today,” he said after the race. “For me, this is the toughest Tour so far due to the weather conditions. In the last 20 kilometres, I rode to the finish with my eyes closed. I was so exhausted that I didn’t think much… The rain made the cobblestone climbs so difficult. On the Koppenberg, there was slipping and sliding all the way to the top. At the top, I had a nice gap but [the finish line] was still quite far away.”

Cyclingnews reported that just a few hours after winning Flanders, to prepare for the defence of his 2023 Paris-Roubaix title, van der Poel boarded a plane to train in the warm weather in the Calpe region of Spain until Thursday.

Evenepoel takes a tumble and loses, Roglič loses his way but wins

World time trial champion Remco Evenepoel (Soudal–Quick Step) crashed on the second curve of the stage 1 ITT of the 2024 Itzulia Basque Country on what he said was a road surface made slippery from car oil and finished a disappointing fourth in the 10 km race, 11 seconds behind the surprise winner, Primož Roglič (BORA-hansgrohe). The Slovenian was a surprise winner because he is not known as an elite time trialist and because he took a wrong turn just before the finish line and had to quickly turn around to snatch his win. Later, Roglič was heard saying off-camera that the mishap had cost him 10 seconds, which makes his victory even more impressive.

As for Evenepoel, he said after the stage: “Everything went well until after 200 metres and I went on the ground. My mistake was bending the bike too much in the corner and it was a slippery part of the city. I could see it from my legs and my hands, everything was black from the grease. But it’s my own fault, my own risk.”

However, despite the tumble, the 24-year-old still managed to beat Jonas Vingegaard (Visma–Lease a Bike) into fifth place by 5 seconds, so he did not appear overly concerned about the setback. The race is the first in which former teammates Roglič and Vingegaard face off each other since the Slovenian moved to BORA. With Evenepoel also in the mix, this year’s Itzulia can also be seen as a mini preview of the Tour de France when the three elite riders will race against each other again – and against Pogačar as well.