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Pogacar, Vollering win Flèche Wallonne, aim for Ardennes hat trick

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Relive the best moments from La Flèche Wallonne in Wallonia, Belgium.

HUY, Belgium -- Nothing can stop Tadej Pogacar right now, not even one of the toughest climbs in cycling.

The two-time Tour de France champion earned his third one-day classic victory of the season season by triumphing at the top of the Mur de Huy for the first time to claim the Flèche Wallonne race, and add another trophy to his already storied career.

The 24-year-old has been untouchable on all grounds this year, dominating the field at the Tour of Flanders and then the Amstel Gold Race last weekend. His performance in the small Belgian town along the river Meuse marked his sixth race victory of 2023 - to go with six stage wins at the weeklong Paris-Nice and Tour of Andalucia races - a streak that is drawing comparisons with cycling great Eddy Merckx.

In the women’s race, Demi Vollering was also in a class of her own in the final grueling ascent leading to the finish as she dropped all her rivals to secure a second one-day classic victory in the space of four days.

The 26-year-old Dutch rider accelerated at the foot of the Mur de Huy - a 1.3-kilometer (0.8-mile) ascent with an average gradient of 9.6% with sections as steep as 19% that decides the outcome of the race. She moved away from the leading pack to follow up her victory at Amstel Gold Race last weekend with another big win.

Both Pogacar and Vollering will aim for a triple of the Ardennes races this weekend at Liege-Bastogne-Liege, an even more prestigious classic they already won two years ago.

Pogacar will be up against defending champion Remco Evenepoel, who is also the reigning world champion. Only the late Davide Rebellin and Philippe Gilbert have managed to win the Amstel, the Flèche and Liège in succession during the same season.

Liège-Bastogne-Liège is one of the “monuments” of cycling - the five most prestigious one-day events in the sport - along with the Tour of Flanders, Milan-San Remo, Paris-Roubaix and the Tour of Lombardy.

The battle between the male main contenders really kicked off once the last breakaway rider, Louis Vervaeke, was caught by the peloton with one kilometer left. Michael Woods, Pogacar and Tom Pidcok rode at the front at a fast tempo until Frenchman Romain Bardet attacked with 250 meters left.

Pogacar had no problem countering the move, rising up out of his saddle in a final effort to easily drop his rivals. Mattias Skjelmose finished second ahead of Mikel Landa.

“I left it all on the climb, it was super hard,” Pogacar said. “It gives me a lot of boost when the team does such an amazing job. ... I needed to pull it off otherwise all the work was for nothing.”

Vollering’s burst of power left everyone else in her wake. Kasia Niewiadoma tried hard to stay on the Dutchwoman’s wheel but got dropped close to the top as Liane Lippert produced a late effort to secure a runner-up finish, five seconds behind. Gaia Realini was third, seven seconds off the pace.

Vollering, who attacked again to keep Lippert at bay, was in tears after she crossed the finish as she thanked her SD Worx teammates via the team’s radio.

“I just went at my own pace and I couldn’t believe there was a gap,” Vollering said. “I saw it very late and the gap was pretty big and I was really surprised by that, so I’m really happy.”