Wout van Aert of Belgium, centre, held off the Netherlands' Mathieu van der Poel, right, and Slovenia's Tadej Pogačar, left, to win the E3 Saxo Classic ©Getty Images

Belgium's Olympic silver medallist Wout van Aert earned a first win of the season on the International Cycling Union (UCI) World Tour, holding off The Netherlands' Mathieu van der Poel and Slovenia's Tadej Pogačar to win the E3 Saxo Classic.

Team Jumbo-Visma rider van Aert had won this one-day race last year, and crossed the finish line of the 204.1-kilometre event in 4hrs 44min 59sec.

The route started and finished in the Belgian city of Harelbeke, featuring 17 hills and five cobbled sectors.

Van der Poel of Alpecin-Deceuninck made the first significant move with just over 80km remaining, but home favourite van Aert was able to stay on his wheel and form part of a six-man break.

Two-time Tour de France winner and Olympic bronze medallist Pogačar of UAE Team Emirates made an attack on the cobbles of the Oude Kwaremont, with van der Poel staying with him and van Aert clinging on.

The trio led by more than one minute going into the final 10km, and it was van Aert who was first to begin his sprint in the last few hundred metres.

He built a gap and held on to consign van der Poel to second place and Pogačar to third.

Matteo Jorgenson of the United States and Movistar Team was fourth at 33 seconds off the pace.

Van Aert was delighted with the manner of his victory.

The 204.1km E3 Saxo Classic started and finished in the Belgian city of Harelbeke ©Getty Images
The 204.1km E3 Saxo Classic started and finished in the Belgian city of Harelbeke ©Getty Images

"The E3 Saxo Classic is one of the biggest races of the spring," he said.

"When you can win it for the second year in a row, it's a wonderful feeling.

"To be honest, the way it went is extra special for me.

"It was an intense fight, which made this victory even more special for me.

"I can be proud of myself and the team.

"It is wonderful to compete at this level against such strong guys.

"Maybe I wasn't the best on the road, but that doesn't take away from this victory."

Jumbo-Visma afterwards defended assistance given to van Aert during the race, with a mechanic applying lubricant to his chain from the team car just before the final climb of the Tiegemberg.

Under the UCI regulations, "the greasing of chains from a moving vehicle shall be forbidden", but the team's lead director Arthur Van Dongen told Cyclingnews "I saw it already in 100 races every year" and van Aert had felt his chain "cracking".

The next three events on the UCI World Tour are due to be held in Belgium - the Gent-Wevelgem on Sunday (March 26), Dwars door Vlaanderen on Wednesday (March 29) and Tour of Flanders on April 2.