AUDENARDE, Belgium — Two-time Tour de France champion Tadej Pogacar joked that he could now retire happy from cycling after winning the Tour of Flanders classic for the first time.
Pogacar, who won the showcase Tour in 2020 and 2021, became only the third cyclist to win both races after Frenchman Louison Bobet and Belgian great Eddy Merckx.
The 24-year-old Slovenian clinched victory with a superb solo attack to add Flanders – one of the five “monument races” in one-day cycling – to his glittering list of wins.
“I can say that I can retire after today and I can be proud of my career,” Pogacar said according to AP. “I can be super happy and proud.”
Pogacar dropped Dutchman Mathieu van der Poel about 18 kilometres from the end of the 273.4-kilometre (169.5-mile) trek from Bruges to Audenarde and beat him by 16 seconds.
Dane Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo) was third, ahead of Belgian Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) in fourth spot – both 1:12 behind Pogacar.
Called “Ronde van Vlaanderen” in Dutch, the Flanders race is renowned for having narrow short hills and cobbles.
The cold and humid weather contributed to several crashes. Polish rider Filip Maciejuk was disqualified after swerving into the peloton and sparking a mass crash that took out 2016 champion Peter Sagan in his final Flanders.
“I’m really sorry for my mistake and causing the crash. I hope all those involved are in good health,” Maciejuk wrote on Twitter. “This should not happen and was a big error in my judgment.”
“With the speed on the cobbles I was already suffering,” said Pogacar, who races for UAE Team Emirates.
The victory was his third monument win, after winning Liege-Bastogne-Liege in Belgium in 2021 and the Giro di Lombardia (Tour of Lombardy) in Italy for the past two years.
The two he has yet to win are Milan-San Remo and Paris-Roubaix, which has even tougher cobbles than Flanders and is being held on April 9. n der Poel won Milan-San Remo this year with Pogacar finishing in fourth place.
“San Remo is the most difficult one (of the five monuments), I arrived there in good shape this year,” said Pogacar, who won the Paris-Nice stage race this year.
He is uncertain whether he is bulky enough to take on Roubaix, which is known as “L´Enfer du Nord” (The Hell of the North).
“I think I need to gain a few kilos for Roubaix,” Pogacar said. “Toughen my hands for the cobbles.”