The 2020 Tour of Flanders sees a new chapter written in the rivalry between its winner, the Dutchman Mathieu van der Poel, and the runner-up, Wout van Aert of Belgium.
The two have been knocking lumps out of one another since their days in the age-groups of cyclocross, but until today they had not contested the finale of a race of the stature of the Tour of Flanders one-on-one.
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Earlier this year, van Aert drew first blood for the season by winning Strade Bianche and then Milan-Sanremo in the space of a week. In those two Italian races, we saw the Jumbo Visma rider triumph first in an off-road gravel extravaganza, then tackle a 100% tarmac course and win a straight-up sprint. Despite starting both, Van der Poel was not even close to contesting either win.
It seemed that, given he won two events at the very extremes of what can be called a road race, van Aert was going to have the better of the season.
Neither of those races, however, have the same cachet for these two young men from the Low Countries as ‘the Ronde’.
In the run up to today’s curtain closer on the cobbled classics tensions were high, even overspilling into the media. At Gent-Wevelgem, when the two riders were in a final selection of nine riders (from which the eventual winner came) the pair marked each other out of the race. Van Aert levelled heavy criticism at van der Poel after that, saying to Belgian network, Sporza:
Unfortunately there was no prize this time because someone looked at me all the time; he apparently wanted me to lose rather than win himself.
True or not, both clearly wanted to win today in Oudenaarde, and it was van Aert who stopped contributing before van der Poel. The Belgian sat on the Dutchman’s wheel until the 200m-to-go marker, before launching his sprint. In the end, even that was not enough and it was van der Poel who took the win on van Aert’s home turf with a photo finish victory.

Watch the stunning Tour of Flanders finish as Van der Poel and Van Aert duke it out

Indeed, it was so close that neither van Aert nor van der Poel knew which had won:
”I have no words for this. I am speechless. I wasn't sure – normally I always feel [who won], but I was so broken in the sprint. All of the sudden the line was there and I had to jump. I looked at Wout's wheel, but neither of us knew,” said van der Poel.
Van Aert conceded that this time, the strongest man won.
“I was sprinting too much in the wind, I had to sprint more in the slipstream of Mathieu. In the end a sprint of two is a matter of the strongest, that was Mathieu. It was only a small difference but still, he was the strongest.”
For a Belgian, there is no race bigger than Flanders and one would imagine van Aert would trade either of his early-season wins in Italy for this most fabled of monuments.
With no Paris-Roubaix this season and only the greatly impoverished Driedaagse De Panne still to come, there will be no ‘decider’ in 2020.
At 25 years of age van der Poel is the younger of the two by a scant four months, which gives us a good six more years of this ongoing and enthralling contest between the pair. What’s clear from this season is that both have the beating of the other, and it’s on that sort of foundation that the greatest rivalries are built.
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