Tadej Pogačar performs miracles as a matter of routine these days but beating both Wout van Aert and Mathieu van der Poel in a three-up sprint proved beyond even his astounding capabilities at the end of the 2023 E3 Saxo Classic. In only the third cobbled Classic of his career, Pogačar looked increasingly at ease on the succession of bergs that punctuated the course, and he placed his breakaway companions under persistent pressure on both the Paterberg and Kwaremont. On the flat run back to Harelbeke, however, the scales began to tip back in favour of the two faster finishers.
Pogačar made two attempts to escape their clutches in the finale, but he was unable to match their speed on the finishing straight, taking third place as Van Aert claimed his second successive win on Stasegemsesteenweg. “I tried everything, but it’s crazy to see how fast they are after 200km and there was nothing I could do,” Pogačar said. “There’s a little bit of disappointment of course, but what can I expect?” Read moreE3 Saxo Classic: Wout van Aert wins battle of titans in Harelbeke As it happened: how Van Aert outwitted Pogacar, Van der Poel at E3 Saxo Classic E3 Saxo Classic: stormy day brews up in Belgium with winds of up to 75kmh On the evidence of this race, Pogačar can expect plenty when he returns to Belgium for next weekend’s Tour of Flanders.
The UAE Team Emirates rider still makes the occasional error of syntax as he negotiates the cobbles and hills of the Flemish Ardennes, but his overall fluency has already improved considerably in comparison with his first attempts on this terrain a year ago. At the 2022 Dwars door Vlaanderen, for instance, a positioning error on Berg Ten Houte condemned Pogačar to a long and unsuccessful afternoon in pursuit of the winning move. On Friday, he was briefly caught out when Van der Poel surged on the Taaienberg with 80km to go, but he quickly remedied that mistake.
When Van der Poel sparked what proved to be the winning move on the Stationberg 25km later, Pogačar responded immediately. “It was a bit hectic with the positioning, I don’t do this race as often, so I have to get used to it,” Pogačar said. “Before the Taaienberg, I was not in the best position.
I was close to the front but not where I was supposed to be. I used a bit of energy there, but no such mistakes next Sunday. ”Pogačar, Van Aert and Van der Poel picked up earlier escapees Søren Kragh Andersen (Alpecin-Deceuninck), Nathan Van Hooydonck (Jumbo-Visma) and Matej Mohorič (Bahrain Victorious) over the Stationberg, but the big three would soon divest themselves of that company after the combination of the Paterberg and Kwaremont.
After Pogačar stretched the front group on the Paterberg, he did it all over again on the Kwaremont. Only Van der Poel could withstand his fierce turn of pace on those mutinous cobbles, though Van Aert managed to fight his way back on as the gradient eased towards the summit. Still, it was a clear signal of intent from Pogačar, who already shone on the Oude Kwaremont in his sparkling Tour of Flanders debut of last April.
“The Kwaremont is the best climb for me. It’s the longest and there I can always try to be the best,” he said. “But with Van der Poel and Wout van Aert, it’s a bit hard to drop them anywhere, on any climb.
”The three leaders broke even over the final climbs of the Karnemelkbeekstraat and Tiegemberg, though their pace saw them extend their lead over the fragmented chasing group to more than a minute. At this juncture, it’s difficult to imagine anyone outside that elite trio claiming the honours at the Ronde, where Pogačar will hope the Monument distance can perhaps offset some his disadvantages against Van der Poel and Van Aert on their preferred terrain. “It would have been nicer if I’d had a bit more punch in the end.
I tried two times with an attack, but they expected it. I hope it will be a different story next Sunday,” said Pogačar, who will forgo Dwars door Vlaanderen, preferring instead to train in Monaco next week. “I go home today, so I’ll do some good trainings and nothing else.
It’s just a little more than one week to Flanders. The shape is here, so there is not much more to do. ”.