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Wout van Aert has won the E3 Saxo Classic for the second year in a row. The Belgian held off Mathieu van der Poel and Tadej Pogacar in the sprint in Harelbeke after the trio had been riding together in the lead for some time. It was Van Aert's first victory of the road season.
Cycling enthusiasts will remember the 2023 edition of Belgium's one-day race for a long time. With seventeen climbs and five cobbled sections, the top favorites had the opportunity to put themselves to the test ahead of the challenging classics programme in the coming weeks.
Van der Poel was no exception. With just over 80 kilometres to go, the Dutchman attacked on the Taaienberg and broke open the race. Van Aert did not hesitate and made sure he stayed on his wheel. Soon after, Pogacar, Nathan Van Hooydonck, Matej Mohoric, and Soren Kragh Andersen joined Van Aert and Van der Poel in a six-man break. Pogacar, Van der Poel, and Van Aert separated from the other breakaway riders on the Paterberg, with the latter struggling. The Belgian resisted giving up and fought his way up to the wheel of his rivals.
The trio led the pursuers by more than a minute as they entered the final ten kilometres. A sprint seemed inevitable. Van Aert was the first to begin his sprint in the last few hundred metres. He quickly created a gap and kept going. The Belgian was visibly delighted when he crossed the line.
"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", said an elated Van Aert shortly after the finish. "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."
"It was an intense fight"
Van Aert also praised the work of his team. "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."