No one thought at the start of March that Mathieu van der Poel would have made this impressive a come back in Milano-Sanremo and the Tour of Flanders, considering his back problem and missed training kilometres in the winter. However in a perverse way, the enforced rest, during his usual cyclocross schedule, probably made his incredible victory at Flanders possible. The Dutchman was the only one able to stay with Tour de France champion Tadej Pogačar on the short Flandrian climbs and then produced his typical 15s power to win the final sprint. Let’s look at van der Poel’s and other riders’ power from the big race.
Campenaerts pushes 10.1 w/kg for 1 minute
Nothing special happened in the race for van der Poel until the last 60 kilometres as he did not attack (nor did any other big favourites) and patiently saved his legs in the peloton. From 140 km to 56 km to go in the hilly section he averaged 309 watts (4.12 w/kg) with normalized power being close to 5 w/kg.
Though van der Poel did not attack, he produced the best 1-minute power in the race on the Berg ten Houte climb when Victor Campenaerts and Matteo Trentin from the panicking UAE-Emirates made an acceleration. Van der Poel produced 727 watts for 1 minute on the 0.4 km, 8.9% section. Campenaerts who attacked did a huge 700 watts, which is 10.1 w/kg but the attack did not really yield any benefits for the Belgian.
Pogačar attacks on the Kwaremont
The race changed when Pogačar attacked on the second Oude Kwaremont. His attack was devastating and the whole top 10 in Strava in the Oude Kwaremont segment (2.79 km, 3.5%) was from Ronde van Vlaanderen 2022. That does not include Pogačar, as he did not upload his ride, but he would certainly take the KOM of the legendary climb, when he bridged to the front group. Van der Poel did 499 watts for 5:05 on the Oude Kwaremont, trying to follow Pogačar. Van der Poel was put under big pressure as his heart rate peaked at 187 bpm which is the heart rate range we saw at the end of his 15 minute tests back in Alicante in February in our earlier article.
Oude Kwaremont Strava segment
After that immediately followed the steep but short Paterberg (0.35 km, 11.7%). Jan Tratnik made a hard acceleration on the climb, doing 651 watts (9.57 w/kg) for 66 seconds and created a selective group with a dozen riders and dropped every Quick-Step rider. He did not take the KOM of Paterberg as many people go KOM hunting there. The Strava segment record belongs to 20-year-old Belgian Jens Vanden Heede, who did the famous climb in 44 seconds, producing an insane 869 watts (12,41 w/kg).
Pogačar makes a move on the Koppenberg
The race was decided on the Koppenberg (1.62 km, 3.9%), which followed after the second tiring Oude Kwaremont. Pogačar attacked on the Koppenberg and only Madouas and van der Poel could follow the Slovenian. Van der Poel did 514 watts (6.85 w/kg) for 3:18, while Madouas who is a few kilograms lighter, did 484 watts (6.78 w/kg) with the same time. To keep up with Pogačar on the toughest part of Koppenberg (0.49 km, 12.6%) van der Poel did 620 watts for 1:42, already after very tough climbs before the Koppenberg.
After the Koppenberg Pogačar, Madouas, van der Poel worked together and caught Dylan van Baarle and Fred Wright, who were at the front. They stuck together for some time until the last Oude Kwaremont x Paterberg combination with Madouas, Wright and Van Baarle all happy to collaborate with the big favourites.
Van der Poel climbing data from 60 km to go until the finish:
- Oude Kwaremont 1: 499 w for 5:05
- Paterberg 1: 679 w for 1:08
- Koppenberg: 620 w for 1:42
- Steenbeekdries: 495 w for 1:24
- Taaienberg: 564 w for 1:30
- Oude Kruisberg: 470 w for 3:06
- Oude Kwaremont 2: 475 w for 5:20
- Paterberg 2: 649 w for 1:10
Pogačar did not accelerate on the last Oude Kwaremont, but dropped everyone except van der Poel. Madouas lost to van der Poel 22 seconds on the climb, producing 427 watts (5,98 w/kg) for 5:42, while van der Poel survived the Pogačar steady tempo and pushed 475 watts (6,33 w/kg) for 5:20. The hardest part was done at 545 watts for 3 minutes. Then was left only the Paterberg, which was done at a consistent pace 649 watts for 70 seconds. Both climbs were done slower than when Pogacar had initially attacked with around 50 kilometres to go, as shown below.
The first Oude Kwaremont x Paterberg duo was done at a faster pace:
Then was only left a 12 kilometre flat section until the finish. Pogačar and van der Poel worked together, exchanging turns and both seemingly happy to go to a sprint. The Dutchman did 330 watts for 16 minutes after the last Paterberg until the sprint with his average heart rate at 160 bpm.
In the final straight, where both riders began to cat and mouse, the speed dropped below 29 km/h, while Van der Poel’s heart rate dropped from 159 to 145 bpm in 40 seconds. The start speed of the sprint was 33.5 km/h as the duo were closed down by Madouas and van Baarle and at that moment MVDP produced 1406 w peak power and 1127 w for 15 seconds, which was enough to win in a convincing fashion against the group.
Van der Poel’s coach Kristof de Kegel published in his Instagram story a table, which shows van der Poel’s sprint data in Ronde van Vlaanderen from 2019 to 2022. Compared to 2021, where he lost to Kasper Asgreen in the final showdown, van der Poel’s performance was more impressive in 2022. In 2021, he started at a higher speed and sprinted only for 10 seconds (1470 w peak power and 1261 w for 10 seconds) and surrendered early to Asgreen. In 2022 van der Poel achieved similar values, but sprinted for a longer period of time (1406 w peak power and 1127 w for 15 seconds). As you can also see in the table below, the starting speeds in both of MVDP’s successful sprints (against Wout van Aert in 2020 and Pogacar in 2022) were much lower than in 2021, with MVDP preferring to take advantage of his world class acceleration.
Overall, the race in 2022 compared to 2021 was harder:
- 2021 (254.3 km): avg 274 w for 5:58h, avg 139 bpm
- 2022 (272.5 km): avg 293 w for 6:16h, avg 143 bpm
The hilly section until the finish
- 2021 (134.3 km): avg 330 w for 3:08h, avg 158 bpm
- 2022 (138.3 km): avg 333 w for 3:17h, avg 156 bpm
If we compare 2021 and 2022 peak power and normalized power, then it is clear that van der Poel’s performance in 2022 was more impressive. Only 5-second peak power is better in 2021, while his 2022 performance dominates in all other time periods. Whether Alpecin-Fenix opt to repeat MVDP’s preparation in 2023 remains to be seen, but it certainly worked last weekend. Perhaps even the Dutchman can reach a higher level in Paris-Roubaix in just over a week, before he returns to training to prepare for the Giro d’Italia.
Below are three graphs with power from strava: