Tour of Flanders: Van der Poel and Kopecky aim for third career victory

The Tour of Flanders, the annual highlight of the Flemish cycling season, starts on Sunday. Mathieu van der Poel and Lotte Kopecky, the men's and women's world champions respectively, will be aiming for the third Tour of Flanders victory of their careers.

Experts predicted a competitive men's Tour of Flanders. Wout Van Aert had been preparing for the race all year, Jasper Stuyven was nearing the best form of his career, and Mads Pedersen's sprint victory at Gent-Wevelgem against Mathieu van der Poel showed that the world champion was not invincible.

But Wednesday's Dwars Door Vlaanderen changed everything. Van Aert and Stuyven face months of recovery with fractures, and while Pedersen will be able to race, he is still suffering from the effects of the crash. "To win the Tour you have to be 100 per cent fit and I'm not," said the Dane.

"It's unfortunate for the Tour, but even more so for Wout and Jasper. You don't wish this on anyone"

With last year's winner Tadej Pogacar not competing this year, Van der Poel is the overwhelming favourite. The Dutchman has won the Tour of Flanders in 2020 and 2022 and could become the seventh rider in history to win the cycling classic three times in a career.

"It's unfortunate for the Tour, but even more so for Wout and Jasper. You don't wish this on anyone," said van der Poel of Wednesday's events. Nevertheless, the world champion remains cautious about his prospects. "Maybe there will be more pressure on me now and that won't make things easier. But my focus hasn't changed. I'm just going to do my thing."

Kopecky could write history

On the women's side, Lotte Kopecky has been the sole favourite for some time. The world champion won the race in 2022 and 2023 and could become the first woman to win three consecutive editions of the Tour of Flanders.

Her main competition will come from Marianne Vos, who won Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Dwars door Vlaanderen this season. The 36-year-old Dutchwoman's first and only Tour of Flanders victory came in 2013. "Lotte has been very dominant the last two years," said Vos on Friday. "Sunday will be no different. She is the woman to beat."

If Van der Poel and Kopecky both win on Sunday, that would not be the first time. The duo have already shared the podium once, after winning the Tour of Flanders in 2022.

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#FlandersNewsService | Lotte Kopecky and Mathieu van der Poel show off their Tour of Flanders trophy in 2022. BELGA PHOTO ERIC LALMAND

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