World champion Julian Alaphilippe was in the winning team at the Tour of Flanders, with Danish champion Kasper Asgreen beating Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) in a two-man sprint. Alaphilippe, though, was the Elegant-QuickStep rider regarded as a pre-race favourite since his splendid performance in the fall edition of the 2020 Tour of Flanders, until he crashed out after colliding with a motorbike.
The Frenchman looked set to live up to those expectations on Sunday, until the final 25 kilometres when he faded away. "My legs blew up. I was cramping everywhere," Alaphilippe said at the mixed zone in Oudenaarde.
That meant instead of being in a position to personally fight for victory, more than two minutes after the winning sprint from Asgreen, Alaphilippe was spotted celebrating his 26-year-old teammate's win when he crossed the line in 42nd place. It was a team performance Alaphilippe was proud of.
"It was super good. We rode very well. We took our responsibility. We were well represented in the final. Kasper was one of our strong guys. He rode to perfection. It was a beautiful victory. He deserves this. He's a great bloke. He's a machine," Alaphilippe said. "It's not the last race that he has won."
During the second time over the Oude Kwaremont, Alaphilippe was present near the front of the peloton. Before the Koppenberg, he moved along with one of the attacks when the pace dropped in the favourites group. He impressed on the steep cobbled climb and, at the top, he bridged up to the sole survivor of the early breakaway Stefan Bissegger (EF Education-Nippo) but the duo was quickly caught back by the favourites.
On the Taaienberg, Asgreen accelerated and only Van der Poel, Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) and Alaphilippe were able to follow him. Later, also the Bahrain Victorious duo Dylan Teuns and Marco Haller bridged up. The six leaders worked hard to keep the chase group at distance but never gained more than 20 seconds. At the top of the Kruisberg, the chase group came back to 10 seconds when Alaphilippe accelerated at the top. His move caused little damage and a few moments later Asgreen attacked again. This time he was gone for good, together with Van der Poel and Van Aert.
"I was glad to accompany him a bit in the final. I tried something at the Kruisberg but saw that it would be complicated for me. Sadly enough I cracked in the final kilometres. I tried to stay with the group as long as possible. I also have the races in the Ardennes still coming up. Now I need to recover. It's been a long day," Alaphilippe said.
He didn't have to care about it too much since the result for Elegant-QuickStep was a positive one.
"It was a great day for the team. I'm glad about the outcome. I tried to support Kasper as good as possible. I'm really happy for him and for the team. I was well aware that this was his goal and he displayed top form. Chapeau, chapeau."
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