Slovenia's Tadej Pogacar won his first Tour of Flanders title with a huge solo effort ©Getty Images

Slovenia’s Tadej Pogacar, winner of the Tour de France in 2020 and 2021, earned his first Tour of Flanders title after pulling clear of his main rival, home rider Mathieu van der Poel, on a solo attack over the final climb of the Oude Kwaremont.

It was a fourth Monument victory for the 24-year-old from Komenda, who finished in splendid isolation, 16 seconds clear, just as he had forecast a week earlier when he announced: "For me, the crucial thing will be to come alone to the finish - that’s how I can win."

Speaking after the International Cycling Union World Tour race, he said: "I knew I just had to go on the Kwaremont.

"I gave everything, and then I almost did crack on the Paterberg.

"I knew it was going to be hard, but it was the only option for me.

"I could retire after today and would be proud of my career!"

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 commissaries, with the Polish rider later apologising for his "error in judgement".

Danish rider Mads Pedersen of Trek-Segafredo held a 34-second lead with 17 kilometres to go, just ahead of the final ascent of the Kwaremont.

But he had no answer to Pogacar, who dropped van der Poel and then caught and passed him before disappearing into the distance.

Van der Poel took second place, with Pedersen holding off Belgian rider Wout van Aert of Jumbo Visma in a photo finish.

Pogacar has now won three of cycling’s most prestigious one-day races, having previously triumphed at the Liege-Bastogne-Liege and twice at Il Lombardia.

The UAE-Team Emirates rider now needs to win both Paris-Roubaix and Milan-Sanremo to become the fourth man after Belgians Rik Van Looy, Eddy Merckx and Roger De Vlaeminck to win all five Monument races.

Lotte Kopecky, pictured with the trophy she won after her Tour of Flanders win last year, has successfully defended her title today ©Getty Images
Lotte Kopecky, pictured with the trophy she won after her Tour of Flanders win last year, has successfully defended her title today ©Getty Images

There was a home victory in the women’s race through Lotte Kopecky, who successfully defended her title, becoming only the second female rider to win consecutive Ronde titles.

It was an emotional victory, coming a few weeks after the death of her brother.

When Kopecky won last month at Nokere Koerse, just a few days after the bereavement, she said she "raced with two.”

She won in the same manner as Pogačar, breaking her rival, Italian Silvia Persico of UAE Team ADQ, on the ascent of the Oude Kwaremont and holding on across the Paterberg before reaching the flat run to the line in Oudenaarde.

Behind Kopecky a chase group were involved in a sprint for the line, with second place going to Dutch rider Demi Vollering to seal an SD Worx one-two.

Italian rider Elisa Longo Borghini of Trek-Segafredo completed the podium, with Persico having to settle for fourth place.