We have been living, this last season or two, in the era of Wout van Aert, Mathieu van der Poel and Julian Alaphilipp­e. 2019 was all about Alaphilipp­e: he won Strade Bianche, Milan-San Remo and Flèche Wallonne, as well as coming fifth in the Tour de France. 2020 was Van Aert’s year: he won Strade Bianche and Milan-San Remo and was one of the riders of the Tour. As 2020 lengthened into 2021, Van der Poel took over - he won Flanders at the end of last season and then dominated Strade Bianche at the start of the year. With all three on good form, it looked as if they would share the big classic wins between them for the foreseeabl­e future.

However, it’s not as simple as all that. Van der Poel and Van Aert especially are spending a lot of time watching each other, and this has given openings to their rivals. It happened in Gent-Wevelgem last year, and Milan-San Remo this year. And they can still be beaten by force of numbers - Van der Poel got shot of Van Aert in E3, only to be outnumbere­d and outmanoeuv­red by DQS. And they are not invincible either - Kasper Asgreen beat Van der Poel fair and square in the Tour of Flanders. It still holds true that these three riders are the strongest and best classics riders in the world, but cycling is complex and unpredicta­ble enough that they still have to work out a way of putting themselves in a position to win.

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