Van Aert fights to third place in E3 Saxo Classic on unfortunate day for Team Visma | Lease a Bike

Van Aert fights to third place in E3 Saxo Classic on unfortunate day for Team Visma | Lease a Bike

Wout van Aert finished third in a spectacular edition of the E3 Saxo Classic. After he crashed on the Paterberg, the 29-year-old team leader had to settle for a podium spot after a long chase against winner Mathieu van der Poel. Matteo Jorgenson finished in a fine fifth place, but the team lost Tiesj Benoot and Per Strand Hagenes en route due to crashes.

The 66th edition of the Flemish spring classic did not turn out to be the most fortunate for Team Visma | Lease a Bike. Per Strand Hagenes had to leave the race soon after a crash. Further examination revealed that the 20-year-old Norwegian sustained a broken nose. Later, Dylan van Baarle, Tiesj Benoot and leader Wout van Aert had their part of bad luck.

After a fast first hour of racing, the peloton allowed a leading group of ten riders a gap. Behind them, the yellow-and-black formation was always alert in a nervous peloton, which was preparing for the crucial hills. Once on the cobbled hills, the favourites attacked each other. Van der Poel placed several attacks well away from the finish, but the Team Visma | Lease a Bike riders managed to respond each time. Meanwhile, Van Baarle disappeared from the peloton after equipment failure. Tiesj Benoot had to leave the race a little later after a crash.

Soon the favourites joined to the front of the race. A group of around 25 riders, including Van Aert and Jorgenson, dived into the finale. On the climb of the Paterberg, things went wrong for Van Aert. In an ultimate attempt to move up a place, he hit the ground. Once he was back on the bike, the two-time E3 winner set up a solo chase behind Van der Poel. The Belgian approached to within 10 seconds, but he could not make up the final stretch on the world champion. In the final kilometres, Van Aert got caught by eventual number two Jasper Stuyven.

"Before I knew it, I hit the ground"

Wout van Aert

"It was a stupid crash”, Van Aert said afterwards about his crash on the Paterberg, the moment where he lost sight of Van der Poel. "I wanted to gain a position via the cobbles, but my wheel got stuck on the edge. Before I knew it, I hit the ground. That crash obviously determined how the rest of the race turned out.”

"For a while I believed I would close the gap to Van der Poel," he continued. "For some time it went evenly, but the chase cost me a lot of energy. After the Karnemelkbeekstraat it was difficult for me to keep the pace high. So at the end I ran out of strength. Somehow I was relieved when Stuyven joined me. That way I could rest in his wheel for a while. In hindsight, third place was still the highest possible."

In the chasing group, Jorgenson rode to spot five. "We could call this an unlucky day for the team. On the way we lost some important riders, which made us collectively weaker. We were able to fight back with Wout and myself in the leading group, but the turning point was Wout's crash on the Paterberg. Then I found myself in the chasing group, where I got very cold. I tried to follow Stuyven, but the legs were empty. All in all, I am happy that I was able to compete for a nice result for myself here as well. I am looking forward to the upcoming classics, where hopefully we will have better luck as a team," the 24-year-old American said.

"It is up to us to show resilience," stated sports director Arthur van Dongen. "Of course it was a pity, but we have already managed to deal with bad luck situations in the past. We were well represented in the race as a team, but the crashes of Tiesj and Wout were crucial. I am convinced Wout was able to follow Van der Poel, although he was definitely the rightful winner in the end. Now we will lick our wounds and review the situation with an eye on the upcoming classics."


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