Belgian favourite Wout van Aert retained his E3 Saxo Bank Classic title after a heavyweight showdown between the Jumbo-Visma rider, his eternal rival Mathieu van der Poel and Tadej Pogacar. The most stinging attacks in the race came from Van der Poel but he was unable to distance the other pair and the racing settled into a status quo until reaching Harelbeke. Wout van Aert looked in difficulty on the Oude Kwaremont but paced himself successfully back to the lead pair and played a canny game to be in the best position to sprint at the finish.
The day’s break saw Thomas Bonnet, Mathias Norsgaard, Kelland O’Brien, Mathis Le Berre and Martin Urianstad go clear but the peloton kept them tight with only 2 minutes the maximum gap allowed. The opening major attack came from Van der Poel on the Taaienberg, the scene of many of Tom Boonen‘s stinging race-winning moves. It pulled the group apart and a small elite few briefly had a gap before the chasers were able to get back on. When it came to the Stationsberg, a crash near the base didn’t help riders get close to Van der Poel who attacked again. The crash removed the likes of Van Baarle, Senechal and Narvaez from contention.
This attack from Van der Poel though was race-defining. Only Van Aert and Pogacar were able to go with the Dutchman and the rest of the race didn’t see them again. Accelerations but not hard-hitting attacks followed on the Oude Kwaremont and Paterberg but it became clear a sprint between the trio was on the cards. An attack just before the 1km to go marker by Pogacar put the Slovene on the front and Wout van Aert used him expertly as a leadout to get up to speed. Van der Poel drew alongside but just didn’t have the legs to go past, so Van Aert became the winner of the 2023 E3 Saxo Bank Classic.
“The E3 Saxo Classic is one of the biggest races of the spring. When you can win it for the second year in a row, it’s a wonderful feeling. To be honest, the way it went is extra special for me. It was an intense fight, which made this victory even more special for me. I can be proud of myself and the team. It is wonderful to compete at this level against such strong guys. Maybe I wasn’t the best on the road, but that doesn’t take away from this victory. Luckily, the prizes are only handed out at the finish.
The guys did an excellent job, which allowed me to win. We were unlucky with the crashes of Tiesj Benoot, Edoardo Affini and Dylan van Baarle, but we anticipated the situation very well. It was admirable how Nathan again played such a significant role in the race until the end. He was a crucial factor in allowing me to conserve my energy at certain moments in the race. It gives me a lot of confidence that I can finish like that. It gives me extra strength and power for the upcoming races.”Wout van Aert
2023 E3 Saxo Bank Classic
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Main photo credit: Cor Vos