"For me, the crucial thing will be to come alone to the finish, that's how I can win."
Those were the words of Tadej Pogačar this week ahead of the Tour of Flanders, a race he did come to the finish alone in and a race he did indeed also win, not bad for a man who was still scrolling through memes 15 minutes before the race began.
In scenes that will live long in the memory, the 24-year-old, who now has two Tour de France titles and four Monuments to his name, attacked pre-race favourite Mathieu van der Poel on the final ascent of the Oude Kwaremont, nobody else in the lead group able to follow.
Over the top of the Paterberg, the advantage grew close to 30 seconds, giving Pogačar not just a win in yet another of the sport's biggest races, but just as significantly another victory in utterly devastating fashion, head and shoulders above everyone.
Behind his brilliance, Van der Poel was left with second place, Wout van Aert and Jumbo Visma the big losers on the day, an early crash, dropped on the Kruisberg and never within touching distance of Pogačar nor his great rival. In the end, fourth place behind Mads Pedersen in the podium sprint was the best the great Belgian hope could do.
𝘼𝙡𝙡 𝙖𝙘𝙘𝙤𝙧𝙙𝙞𝙣𝙜 𝙩𝙤 𝙥𝙡𝙖𝙣 🧠
Tadej Pogacar 𝙬𝙞𝙣𝙨 the Tour of Flanders with a solo victory! 🤩
— Eurosport (@eurosport) April 2, 2023
The early stages of the race had been overshadowed by a huge crash that brought down most of the peloton and saw Bahrain Victorious' Filip Maciejuk disqualified by the commissaires, the Polish rider later apologising for his "error in my judgement".
It was a day fraught with danger from the off, the breakaway taking many nervy kilometres to form and Van der Poel briefly behind a split, his teammates forced to burn matches just to get their leader back in the peloton.
When the break finally settled the seven-man lead group including Soudal Quick-Step sprinter Tim Merlier and Tour de France stage winner Hugo Houle went to work, building the advantage while those behind sought to save energy.
The Maciejuk-casued crash was one of many falls that overshadowed the first half of proceedings, Tim Wellens forced to abandon before a later high-speed crash saw the end of Matej Mohorič and Biniam Girmay's chances.
With the wicked narrow Molenberg came the first big move of the race, a group including Neilson Powless, Kasper Asgreen, Stefan Küng, Fred Wright, Pedersen and Matteo Trentin riding clear, joining up with the breakaway and building a dangerous three-minute advantage over those in the peloton.
Come the second ascent of the Kwaremont it was go time for Pogačar, a stunning attack which gapped Van Aert, Van der Poel and the rest and saw him move clear over the top.
The big three were back together by the Koppenberg however, a chase including Tom Pidcock, Van Aert's teammate Christope Laporte and Nils Politt cutting the Slovenian's advantage before the three pre-race favourites showed their class on the steepest slopes, riding clear in a three-up pursuit of the lead group.
Past the statue of Tom Boonen's legs on the Taaienberg and Van der Poel was again chasing on, a slip when changing gear, but fortunately not fully shipping his chain, enough to raise the heart rate.
Under 30km to go and the gap to the front still around 40 seconds, Pedersen attacked from the lead group and seconds later Van der Poel from the chase, Van Aert unable to follow his great rival and Pogačar.
The two joined the chase group while Jumbo Visma's Van Hooydonck dropped back to aid his leader's chase. All the while Pedersen's lead was on the up, growing to 34 seconds ahead of the final ascent of the Kwaremont where Pogačar took flight.
In the stretch of one cobbled climb, the endlessly talented Pogačar dropped the rest of the group, Van der Poel included, caught and passed Pedersen and built a 16-second lead over his Alpecin-Deceuninck rival, an advantage that had grown by the finish to cap another great chapter in the Tadej Pogačar story.
Dan joined road.cc in 2020, and spent most of his first year (hopefully) keeping you entertained on the live blog. At the start of 2022 he took on the role of news editor. Before joining road.cc, Dan wrote about various sports, including football and boxing for the Daily Express, and covered the weird and wonderful world of non-league football for The Non-League Paper. Part of the generation inspired by the 2012 Olympics, Dan has been 'enjoying' life on two wheels ever since and spends his weekends making bonk-induced trips to the petrol stations of the south of England.